After their first Pitchfork interview in August of 2011, Purity Ring might have been in danger of getting pegged (as Sleigh Bells were, at first) as just another cutely incongruous boy-girl duo with drum machines: that band from Canada with the boy who loves Soulja Boy and the girl who writes weird poetry about “the obscurities of existing” or whatever. Their debut album, though, laid any lingering claims of incongruity to rest. Their sound is all one. Anyone who’s heard Shrines even once knows exactly what “a Purity Ring song” sounds like, a feat few debut albums (cf. the s/t debuts of the xx and Crystal Castles and not too many others) carry off with such consistency.
In that interview, Megan James mentions that she never knew her grandmother—the “grandma” figure in Belispeak (a standout track) is not a childhood memory but a sort of matriarchal ancestral presence hovering over her bed as she sleeps. James’s cryptic and hallucinatory lyrics take place mostly in the wild territory behind her sleeping eyelids, a space she seems to have explored and charted quite extensively. The “Belispeak” music video is a good approximation of what I imagine this exploration must look like, with James groping her way through a viscous and sewery dream-fluid toward a distant light-source. She is a spelunker in her own subconscious, and the record of her travels makes for some of the most deeply interior lyrics in recent memory, couched in a private language and yet strangely familiar.
Corin Roddick came to regret his early avowal of Soulja Boy, but there is no question that the oozing and stuttery beats of Southern hip-hop are one of his creative touchstones. The genius of Purity Ring, though, lies in the way they take that bump-n-grind beat’s erotic slowness and make it mean something completely unexpected: paired with James’s weirdly disembodied vocals, the rhythmic pulse of sex becomes instead the heart-throb of the dream-time. You can dance to it if you like, but this is music made for headphones and closed eyes, joining the xx and Burial and Nosaj Thing in that nocturnal species for whom the true beat is a whispered secret that would get drowned out on the dance-floor.
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