Purity Ring – Shrines

We’re half a year away from the supposed end of the world. That is, if you still believe in the Mayan calendar myth that says the world will end on December 21st this year. Even if Canadian musicians Corin Roddick and Megan James (Purity Ring) don’t believe in the apocalypse, they’re creating some of the most forward thinking, end of the world pop music around today.

Purity Ring originally started as a side project for Roddick, who at the time was a member of Gobble Gobble (now called Born Gold). While his previous band flirted with glitchy, psychedelic synth pop, it was their approach to music that laid the foundation for Purity Ring’s innovative style. Seeing a Born Gold show live is an experience in itself, as the band creates their own instruments and stage props. In one show you’re likely to see a man on stilts play a sampler attached to a glittery shovel like a guitar while another member triggers effects with an Xbox motion sensor camera while wearing a leather jacket covered in LED lights. It’s something that sounds over the top, like a strange DIY cyperpunk project-turned-touring band, but it’s enthralling live.

At a Purity Ring show, Roddick uses strange homemade instruments created from pipes and paper lanterns to trigger samples and percussion, similar to the unique instruments in his former band. When he created “Ungirthed”, the duo’s first single, he recruited friend and musician Megan James to contribute vocals. In a recent Spin article, James talked about how their entire stage setup is handmade, from the curtains flanking the band to the clothing they wear. It’s an interesting contrast to other side of popular electronic music: on one end you have the bombastic, multi-million dollar pyrotechnic festival shows, on the other you have a small clan of electronic musicians handmaking their own instruments and gear.

Now here after a sporadic release of singles leading up to the album release, Shrines arrives with perfect timing. Purity Ring have created a confident album that manages to effortlessly push boundaries while still sounding familiar to contemporary electronic music. Shrines feels monumentally in the moment, even more incredible considering this is a debut album by a duo that has been together just over a year at this point. Roddick’s compositions are precise and focused, but always teeter on the edge of warping into something completely unexpected. Midway through “Obedear”, the beat drops to a half-tempo chug before James declares the albums titular phrase “build it into pinnacles and shrines / some ghastly predicament of mine.” “Cartographist” begins with a sort of ethereal synthesized choir before an earth-shattering bass boom turns the song into something sinister and dominating.

It’s hard not to understate the incredible production of Shrines. For such a new band, producing their own music, it sounds phenomenal. On “Grandloves”, the chopped & sampled vocals blend wistfully with the synthesized instruments, and when a rapped verse from Young Magic’s “You With the Air” appears throughout, it seems natural, almost more perfect in this setting than it’s original home. The sophisticated compositions are nothing short of superhuman, it’s hard to recall a better sounding record released in recent memory.

Back in December, when KZUU named “Belispeak” the #10 best song of 2011, I declared  “..if Purity Ring are the future of pop music, we better hope we live through 2012.” If such a bold and innovative record can help pave the way for a new wave of DIY electronic musicians, our most certain post-apocalyptic future looks bright.