Purity Ring's live shows are an intense experience. Both members huddled round Corin Roddick's self-built instruments and a cluster of flashing lightbulbs. Megan James's voice weaves like golden thread through hiccupping drum machines and throbbing synths, imbuing the songs with a warmth that's often missing in electronic music. Thankfully this rare concoction has been preserved on Shrines, a thoroughly beguiling record which invites you in and encircles you from start to finish.
While their closest sonic cousin is 4AD labelmate and compatriot, Grimes, this Montreal duo create a duskier, more tactile brand of dream pop. As the press release for Shrines states: 'Purity Ring make lullabies for the club'. It's all dry ice and low lighting, as danceable to as any Calvin Harris-produced track you'll hear this year. When you delve deeper, however, each of these songs reveal themselves as fragments of tenderness; coquettish love songs filled with batting eyelashes and clasped hands.
Thematically, James's wonderfully idiosyncratic lexicon is a key element in setting Shrines apart, drawing from the same archaic well as fellow 4AD alumnus Elizabeth Fraser. She revels in antiquated language while also coining her own words ('Fineshrine', 'Obedear' and 'Lofticries' are all James' constructs), giving the songs a timeless, magical quality. For all its gentleness, however, the worlds which James narrates can also be brutal, strewn with body parts and reminiscent of Jeff Mangum at his corporeal best. The fierce imagery of Grandloves ("I'll stick red toothpicks in my dirt-filled heart") and Belispeak ("drill little holes into my eyelids that I might see you in my sleep"), for example, is simultaneously caring and gruesome, macabre fairytales and assertions of undying love which will be preserved by any means necessary.
Indeed, there's a magnificently jarring disconnect between the uplifting, consistently catchy sounds and the chilling content of the lyrics. 'Fineshrine' and 'Ungirthed', for example, evoke the chopped up sunshine of Balam Acab, while 'Obedear' sounds like 'Creep' might have had they realised their dark pop potential. Other highlights include the Young Magic-sampling 'Grandloves', Isaac Emmanuel's vocals are a welcome addition, lending the song a duet feel and countering James's high-pitched tones.
'Grandloves' is a reminder that Purity Ring should beware falling into that category of groups who are almost too unique, too immersed in one sound. The song is notable in that it is easily distinguishable from the other songs on the album, something that isn't always that easy on Shrines, as the template of constantly attacking and decaying synths, skittering 808s and chopped up vocal samples is followed relentlessly. James's voice can also become cloying, her childlike diction a little too sweet at times. Purity Ring, though, are an impressively precocious talent and aged just 21 and 24, Roddick and James have already managed to create a sonic universe that stands out as confidently singular. Shrines isn't perfect, but it's a bold debut and one that hints of potential greatness to come.