Purity Ring’s debut recasts hip hop in the Prozac suburbs. Booming crunk and RnB beats are smothered in medicated synths and vocals are autotuned numb. Made by a duo living in different Canadian cities, with instrumentalist Corin Roddick sending skeleton tracks over to singer Megan James, this impersonal writing process chimes with the physical disconnect of broadband modernity, and can be felt in the DNA of the finished work. James has described her lyrics as ‘deeply personal’ but in Roddick’s hands they are chopped, screwed and stuttered into surreal memories of song, offering little in the way of clues as to meaning. The beats themselves are also prone to glitch and freak; half downloaded MP3s striving to fill in the byte gap. Inevitably, on occasion everything threatens to collapse into a mess of reverberating pads, vocal snips and skittering snares. But, at its best, Shrines offers thrilling cryogenic soundscapes, songs such as Cartographist; a rumbling threat of a bassline filigreed with gossamer vocals, alien and compelling.
The singles Belispeak and Ungirthed also show a sly subversion of hooky RnB melodies, albeit with the hooks buried under all manner of insectile ticks- Roddick has voiced his desire to produce for mainstream RnB stars, and on the basis of this album, that’s something we’d love to hear.
Purity Ring belong alongside contemporaries SALEM, Grimes and Crystal Castles- they are reaching to soundtrack a low bitrate, emotionally hollow world, and creating some awkward and fascinating, pop music in the process.