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Purity Ring Shrines
Released 20 July 2012
Producer(s) Corin Roddick, Megan James
Label 4AD
Length 38:15
Genre Indie, electronic
Website www.purityringsongs.com

Montreal duo Purity Ring have delivered one of 2012’s most anticipated albums, and the gothic electro-pop of Shrines doesn’t disappoint – in fact it must rank as one of this year’s most engaging and innovative dance releases. Vocalist Megan James and multi-instrumentalist Corin Roddick first teamed up in 2010, and after a few single and EP releases the hype machined kicked into overdrive, with Pitchfork breathlessly tagging them as their best new band of 2011. They were signed to 4AD only in April of this year, and then set about cutting through the hype to create a debut album that is decidedly sure-footed and marks them down as ones to watch.

Perhaps it’s the Montreal connection, but anyone familiar with Grimes’ critically acclaimed work to date will detect a similarity - on a superficial level at least - as both artists combine dreamy vocals with jagged synths and stop-start, glitchy beats. Roddick, who provides the template for Megan James’ haunting, child-like vocals, admits to being partial to Southern Hip-hop and R&B, and this influence can be clearly felt in the minimalist beats which complement the sharp, glacial synths and ghostly vocal samples. It owes a clear debt to electro-pioneers like The Knife, and there are unmistakeable passing nods to Depeche Mode’s industrial edginess.

The album is held together - and indeed works as concept - because of James’ distinctive and undeniably bewitching vocals. The melodies have a sweetness to them, mining a fine line between childlike innocence and the fear of the unknown, perhaps in a similar way to Bjork, at least in her early work. The lyrical content is made up of James’ own deeply personal writings, dealing with themes of childhood fears, often delving into the dark recesses of the psyche, such as on the haunting 'Belispeak', where she implores of her grandma to, "drill little holes into my eye-lids...that I might see you when I sleep." S Club Juniors it is clearly not.

Strangely enough, despite its dark edges, Shrines is a very accessible album, and contains enough hooks to suggest that will go down well in clubland, and there is enough here to suggest that Purity Ring could, with a few tweaks here and there, end up on daytime radio or filling arenas with their anthemic pop. Personally I feel that they have enough about them to carve out a niche as the torch-bearers for the dark techno first pioneered by the likes of The Knife. Shrines is an assured first step, and it will be very interesting to see where Purity Ring can take it from here.

- Ken O’Meara