opinion byMATTHEW MALONE
With the ridiculous amount of crossover genres that seem to be born every other week in the 2010s (CDM, country dance music, is a personal favorite), it’s become difficult to track down the true pioneers of a sound. No finite group of artists invented chillwave, say, like Amon Düül and Tangerine Dream developed Krautrock back in 1968. And as much as Purity Ring was just another indie boy-girl duo bobbing their heads to the evolution of underground electropop, the sound of Shrines was groundbreaking. The album was successful not because it unearthed a completely novel genre, but because it perfected to a point what so many 20-year-old Brooklynites could not. Corin Roddick and Megan James refused to beat around the bush, and honed in on an aura so visceral and unsettling that there was no mistaking a Purity Ring song from another artist’s. It was clear from “Ungirthed,” the duo’s sickly-sweet single that maintained the eerie pop of The Knife and the chopped-and-screwed narrative of Burial, without managing to sound remotely like either. Simple, yes, but so very well refined. Over the course of only three singles, Roddick and James transcended from MySpace to indie’s biggest label, and with full merit. The LP followed suit. Carnal, off-putting, but deeply accessible, Shrines was one of 2012’s best albums, and maybe its best debut.
So what is a band to do when its previous album left no loose threads whatsoever? Purity Ring clearly faced the constant struggle between altering their sound, thereby risking failure, and stagnating, thereby risking boredom. Ever so calculatingly, they chose a path that somehow risked neither, but can occasionally err on the insipid side, when placed next to trophies like “Amenamy” and “Fineshrine.”
While Megan James has publicly attributed the resurrected Purity Ring 2.0 to less introspective songwriting, the heart of Another Eternity’s novelty is certainly its production. Corin Roddick seems to have acquired some affinity for EDM, as nearly every chorus on the record is built around a drop. The standout tracks revolve around these moments where James’ voice soars over discrete synth pangs, most notably on “Bodyache” and “Flood on the Floor.” The former starts like any fluttery Purity Ring track—you know the kind, where you imagine fields of blossoming flowers on some foreign planet with a red sky. But then the trap beats—another common feature of Another Eternity—enter strong, building up to chorus that shatters any image of wonder preceding it. “Flood on the Floor” works similarly, with a blippy, glitchy hip-hop beat that more forward-thinking rappers like Pusha T or Drake might use to back their verses. Whereas Megan James once shared a wavelength with Grimes, her wispier, hook-oriented vocals now put her in a field with Tinashe or Jhene Aiko. The effort that Purity Ring employed to craft mythical environments is now focused on the isolated elements. The beats are meticulous, the drops colossal, but the album fails to envelop its listeners as completely.
Ironically, “Push Pull,” the first single off of Another Eternity perhaps falls the most flat out of any track on the album. Built with a cutesy verse and a bland refrain, it features neither profound production from Roddick nor quirks from James. It’s not at all that Purity Ring need the booming elements to succeed, though. Shrines’ closer “Shuck” was one of its absolute standouts, and was constructed very minimally without any fancy bass tricks. On Another Eternity “Stranger than Earth” and “Repetition” are both simple tracks that glide on their own lethargy. They’re the closest to ballads, actually, accentuating a typical Purity Ring lullaby melody over anything else. These are the moments where this sophomore album surpasses its predecessor. Roddick and James now feel comfortable with tracks that don’t incorporate oddities in music or lyrics. They’ve matured in their ability to make just good songs, ones that feel no need to stand out more than their clever composure allows them.
What might be the best way to define this new Purity Ring, in fact, is checking out the track titles. Shrines was full of creepy neologisms (“Crawlersout,” “Ungirthed,” “Belispeak,” even “Lofticries”) that are now far more normalized (“Heartsigh,” “Bodyache”). In fact, besides these latter two tracks, Another Eternity employs only real phrases as song titles. Still on the rim of magic (“Sea Castle”), but nonetheless blander, these songs succeed not in idiosyncrasy, but in mere pleasure. The album is good, which is a component never worth underscoring. But it could be much more than that. B-