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Review: Purity Ring Get Stuck in Ether-Pop Purgatory on ‘another eternity’

6
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Label: 4AD

“I don’t have patience for long, wandering pieces,” Corin Roddick of Purity Ring told SPIN in January. “I need a focused song, usually with a vocal, and it has to be concise, and get from A to B quickly.” In a sense, this wasn’t a hugely surprising sentiment to be hearing from half of the Canadian duo only two songs on their 2012 debut album, Shrines, went over four minutes but it was notable, because so much of Purity Ring’s appeal is in the intricacies of their densely layered productions, and the sort of time-lapse sensory experience they create. To hear that Roddick puts such a clear priority on pop songcraft over general atmospherics… it might not be out of character, but it’s certainly playing against type.

It’s also the dilemma that lies at the core of the Edmonton natives’ second album, another eternity. At ten tracks and 35 minutes, the album runs even leaner than the twosome’s first, and is far more pop-minded at its approach: Megan James’ vocals have never been clearer (or her lyrics more intelligible), and the songs follow standard verse-chorus formatting in a way that makes Shrines highlights like “Fineshrine” and “Ungirthed” sound practically stream-of-consciousness by comparison. Trappy production flourishes like split-second synth zooms and double-time handclaps put the album in near-crossover territory; “dust hymn” builds up and drops like Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow,” while single “begin again” could be a Rihanna hit with slightly different lyrics.

This isn’t inherently an issue Purity Ring’s pop instincts are strong, and they understand how to corral the sonic largesse of Top 40 without letting it totally overwhelm their tender melodies and wispy vocals. “begin again” is stunning in its cascading synths and low-end quake, and the plink-plunking quiver of “bodyache” is maybe the most visceral thing the two have done to date. The problem is that the ten songs are so busy in their productions but so hermetically sealed in their pop formalness that they eventually end up feeling claustrophobic and ultimately redundant; despite the album’s relative brevity, it’s surprisingly draggy by the end of the second side. For an LP whose music often sounds like it’s literally respiring, these songs could really use the chance to breathe a little bit.

It’s hard to fault the duo for the, ahem, purity of their pop leanings, and if they’d rather fill their LPs with three-minute jams of razor-sharp precision than droning eight-minute synesthesia soundscapes, it’s commendable that they should do so. But the weight of Tucker and Roddick’s reverb-drenched, synth-stuffed production is such that it’s hard for their songs to consistently achieve the kind of liftoff that the pair desires  like the girl on the album’s cover, they just hover in the ether, stuck in a kind of sonic purgatory. They’d sound more buoyant if balanced with something a little more explicitly earth-bound; ironically, the album would probably move by quicker with some more expansive numbers to provide necessary gravity. As is, spending another eternity with Purity is a bit too much of a commitment.