Confidently handling the hype that has swirled about them like candyfloss over the past eighteen months, Purity Ring have sauntered into 2012 with their perceived promise not only intact but augmented; Shrines is one of the strongest debut albums of the year, matching expectation with execution. The Montréal electronic duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick first triggered music blogosphere mash notes after releasing a dynamic debut track in early 2011, the chirpy Pan’s Labyrinth weirdness of ‘Ungirthed’.
That song now appears on Purity Ring’s full-length debut and its plaintive, heart-of-darkness tone informs the entire album; Shrines shudders and percolates with Roddick’s insolent electro-pop and hip hop beats, bedded by swirling, unresolved synth splashes and guided by James’ helium-light vocals. Splitting duties as both wide-eyed Gretel and wicked Baba Yaga, James exorcises visions born of a brothers Grimm fairy tale and a particularly gruesome episode of Dexter. Punching up those nightmarish scenarios are Roddick’s guttural, electronically altered backing vocals, sifting occasionally under songs like ‘Lofticries’, as if Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness in Legend had been let loose in the studio.
Running through a forest of “detritioning bones” (‘Ungirthed’), exposed sternums (‘Fineshrine’) and “some ghastly predicament” (‘Obedear’), Purity Ring eloquently match that Grand Guignol lyricism with handsomely-realized, patiently-unfurled songs that amble into R&B territory (‘Grandloves’), hip hop-nudged odysseys (‘Bellispeak’) and Nine Inch Nails-raked melancholia, like the heaving gasp and throb of ‘Cartographist’. Although James can’t help but sound, due to bleakly eviscerated imagery, like the morbid kid sister of Grimes or Altered Images’ Clare Grogan, her champagne bubble of a voice lifts Purity Ring from a darker goth austerity. Along with Roddick’s playful-yet-brooding production, the duo deftly shapes Shrines’ hellish undertow into an intimate, graceful and yes, even effervescent dialogue — ugly secrets told in a luminous way — that ascends to a most heavenly, sun-drenched plane.