Purity Ring – graves
Canadian ‘futurepop’ outfit Purity Ring arrived at a sort of turning point for electropop. It was 2010, eurodance had infected mainstream pop and the EDM boom was reaching its peak. Moreso, the rise of the internet as a space for sharing and discovering music had generated a storm of microgenres, from lo-fi house, to trap, to witch house. Purity Ring sort of sat somewhere in between these hot styles, concocting a beguilingly trendy sort of synthpop that quickly gained traction and influence. 2012’s Shrines, with its grim storybook lyrics and distorted, glacial but saccharine loops, may arguably be one of the most influential albums to arise from the microgenre explosion, quietly paving the way for downtempo trap and pitched vocals as the new sound of pop, becoming a new habit for Tove Lo and sending Grimes into oblivion. In the years since, the impact of Shrines can still be felt but Purity Ring themselves have lapsed into a sort of elusiveness that would see them working behind the scenes writing for Katy Perry or soundtracking trailers for Netflix. 2020 would see them release one of their most poignant statements to date, their third album WOMB. It was an album that suggested a band settled into their point of view, a visceral culmination of their earlier sounds with a keener conceptual eye. It’s perhaps for this reason that graves, their latest EP and first body of work since parting ways with label 4AD, feels like Purity Ring backtracking.
Released on their own label The Fellowship, graves appears lost in time. It again uses Purity Ring’s early formula of dark lyricism and icy, atmospheric production, but it returns to this space with trepidation. Nothing here is as fully realised as the fleshy viscera of WOMB or the cultishness of Shrines. In essence, it neither moves back in time nor forwards. The EP’s title track shows some promise. Its wide-eyed piano and shredding synths feel fresh for Purity Ring coupled with Megan James’s (mostly) unfiltered vocals, while still functioning within the familiar. A building ascent on the chorus baits you into thinking Purity Ring may dive head first into tropical house, but instead falls into twinkling piano chords and mellow trap hits. Similarly, neverend oscillates between the Purity Ring of the past and future but makes a compelling argument with its quiet but potent hook and a bridge scored by micro drum’n’bass backspins. These two songs, which feature at the top of the EP, are easily its strongest. The rest of the collection is less defined, stuck in a sort of limbo between 2010 and now. It’s fairly middle ground stuff. It’s the Purity Ring formula given a contemporary pop polish, but it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and in turn it doesn’t know quite what to say. graves is possibly some of Purity Ring’s most rudimentary work lyrically. At its best, it passes for serviceable pop but at its worst, it strips them of the childlike poetics that made them so alluring in the first place. On unlucky, James rhymes “lucky” with “unlucky,” and “unlucky” with “Waikiki.” neverend is also guilty of this vapidness, with its looped chorus refrain, but its simplicity is excused in service toward a strong hook and its storybook like verses. soshy is Purity Ring’s answer to a Rihanna chorus, a bizarre sort of patois rhyme scheme that feels very outside of Purity Ring.
The production on the EP fairs better, if not only because of its apparent finesse. This is Purity Ring at their most engineered. The beat on soshy glitches through spectral vocal ambience into moody, grime soaked darkwave while watersong’s syncopated percussion is dynamic and full of body like a crystalline stream flowing over rocks. Like WOMB before it, graves looks to grow Purity Ring toward more pop focussed territory but this time, they yield with varying results. unlucky and nthngsfine rehash much of their old gimmicks in the vein of Shrines, but again, it feels very outside of themselves, like they’ve been tasked with creating a ‘Purity Ring style beat.’ graves closes earnestly enough though, with the instrumental piano balladry of xsalt. Stripped of nearly everything; James’s singsong and their glitchy, spacey electronics, xsalt is essentially the skeleton of Purity Ring. And in its simplicity it’s a reminder of what drew us toward the band in the first place; an honest, naive simplicity that’s both wondrous and uncanny, a look into the darkness that exists in tandem with innocence. Bright eyed, but painstakingly vulnerable.
Stream graves by Purity Ring below.
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