Purity Ring – another eternity
“stranger than earth”, the fourth song on the Calgary synth-pop band’s sophomore album, is a trap song, an EDM song, and a 90s-tinged electronic club ballad, all at the same time. In the quest to figure out which cutting-edge, contemporary pop trope to incorporate, it chooses to go in every direction at once. Its big-synth heroics conjure up latter-day Metric, and this is a big, big problem.
Like Metric, Purity Ring staked their initial claim on layering melted-butter vocals over a fresh take on the sounds of the day. Where Metric rode in on a wave of sunny, troubled indie rock in the wake of Broken Social Scene, Purity Ring chose to pair Megan James’ ethereal voice to an electronic soundscape that bore more than a few resemblances to witch house, a meme-genre the internet had a brief fascination with in 2010-2011. The songs were a bit twisted, oddly barbed; they sounded like the jagged edges of a broken dream where everything seemed normal but you were left feeling faintly disturbed.
Like Metric, Purity Ring have made a fumbling grasp for a more widescreen acceptance. Metric followed the gigantic-sounding Fantasies with the boring synth-pop rigidity of Synthetica. Purity Ring follows Shrines with its opposite as well; the debut album’s danger and disturbing dream pop are replaced with a much safer, more straightforward pop. Pop, full stop: this is an album of modern hip hop, Avicii, David Guetta, and sub-indie balladry. This is not a band that ever took cues from Salem, or oOoOO. It takes no chances, and increases opportunity for market penetration.
I cast some aspersions on Imagine Dragons’ take on modern arena rock recently and the same goes for Purity Ring. It’s reaching to rock as many people’s faces off at once as it can, and every song feels like a forced moment. “push pull” comes the closest to their old sound, with its waterfall of arpeggiated synth notes tripping over themselves; everything else could be interchangeable on some indie rock radio DJ’s Saturday night club playlist. Everything is still on the verge of drowning under hazy reverb, but it feels contrived this time out and causes the tracks to simply feel not loud enough for the desired effect. Megan James can still sing like a stoned angel, of course, but Corin Roddick’s production is both pandering and lackluster.
Don’t even get me started on the conceit of stylizing everything in lowercase.