Not the least remarkable thing about this Canadian duo’s utterly remarkable debut is the sense of its own world – self-contained, claustrophobic, intense – in which it has wrapped itself. For a band that have only been going since 2010, the coherence which sucks the listener in while never quite allowing them to fully decode each track’s intent is impressively achieved, oppressively apparent.
The song titles (Fineshrine, Grandloves, Belispeak, Lofticries) reformat words into new combinations that convey new, almost-tangible meanings and many of the lyrics, too, are semi-audible, half-caught amongst the futuristic synths’ pulse and crackle, just out of reach. Where they are discernible, they tell of an often grotesque physicality: “Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you,” pleads vocalist Megan James on Fineshrine. Then, on, Belispeak: “Drill little holes into my eyelids.”
The unsettling nature of much of this content is wonderfully complemented by the music, a strongly synthesised counterpoint to the vocals, which switch between high, breathy, unearthly (Grandloves) and ingénue-like (the disturbing Shuck). Crawlersout’s lyrics are heavily treated, vocoder’d-and-Auto-Tuned, so deep and slow as to be (deliberately) almost inaudible. Elsewhere, Lofticries peters out to a near one-note drone by the song’s end.
The post-dubstep whomp of a low, slow, lazy bassline is present throughout, often punctuated by manic tape-played-backwards interludes, or with a raft of effects like Fineshrine’s curious “yipyipyip” vocalisations, Grandloves’ organ throb, or Ungirthed’s shimmering handclaps. Cartographist, at the album’s centre, represents (aptly) the band’s outer reaches, its backing groans and messed-with beats providing no easy route through.
But it is the more accessible moments that form Shrines’ highlights: the unavoidable sweetness of Ungirthed’s melody, or the shoegaze swirls that combine – somehow – with a dubstep-meets-RnB slink on Grandloves.
The temptation to draw comparisons with 4AD’s original conjurers of oblique mystique the Cocteau Twins is strong, but probably also unfair. Purity Ring have pulled off the feat of producing one of the year’s most arresting debuts – a Grimm Tales for the 2010s, shrouded in the illusory threads of contemporary club music – while sounding like no-one else but themselves.
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