Purity Ring is not alone. With Frank Ocean crawling up the Billboard charts from “underground” Oddity, and Vampire Weekend igniting the gentrified swayers at Pitckfork summer music festival earlier this month, Purity Ring’s Shrines presents itself at a fashionable hour. Toeing the line between marginalized music crafted for the ever-blurring community of indie henchmen versus the Power 106 bangers (sorry you out-of-towners) we drive slow to, is the shared, scattered space that Purity Ring finds itself in. During an age where computer music can make a fifteen-year-old famous and Justin Vernon trades Hennessy swigs with Kanye, it’s hard to argue any clear-cut sonic distinctions between what makes one thing indie and its fraternal twin mainstream.
Up until just a few years ago, it seemed that so many more acts were making a point of rejecting what popular culture and its soundtrack had to spoil. The bands had hearts of copper that shone brighter than the platinum sellers, as attested by their sweatered devotees. They weren’t trying to appease the nodding masses. The energy and the gnarled jams they stood behind proved it.
Nowadays, “indie” seems to indicate some sort of bad luck charm. To shake it off is to bask in spotlight success and sacrifice any twinkles of gritty allure that satisfied those old-time followers. In Shrines, those twinkles modestly escape from underneath enormous, sometimes unrelenting ventures into territories of mass appeal. It’s enough to offer the record a tentative place in the file cabinets of college radio stations, but sets the band up on a platform that will likely streamline into boring, big-budget thumpery.
Shrines is woven together with the heartstrings of its central characters in places where listeners get a glimpse into the ernest emotive movements that Corin Roddick (beats) and Megan James (vocals) are trying to pull off. However, these veins tangle and become obscured by the band’s tendency to surrender to the big and bland. James’s innocent, yet unmistakably eerie vocal timbre lends a settling charm to the haunting middle movement of the record in tracks like “Cartographist,” pumping a beautiful blood that battles bore. Her amorous witch’s pipes, coupled with some of Roddick’s less choppy instrumentals, create pockets of this record that glisten for short-lived moments of summer soundtrack perfection. However, the band is quick to deviate and resort back to less gripping busyness or drab pop song, long before the potential purity they have at their disposal is ever fully realized.
The record is colored with an evocative, subtly wicked something that speaks positively of the band’s stage setting motives and big picture thinking. When the beat is big and bubbly with modes that ring blissful in major harmony, James’s lyrics tell stories of masochistic bone hunters as relayed in “Fineshrine.”
As the album moves into its latter half and forgettable tracks come and go without much obstacle, darkness begins to settle over the sonic landscape. “Belispeak,” with its creeping minor melodies and cryptic lyrical chronicling, lets the evil set in and brings something well-intentioned but less impressive in craftiness to Purity Ring’s opus. Shrines is satisfactory in enough places to make it a worthy driving jam or playlist piece for a backyard, but the potential of Roddick and James’s shared musical intentions is never aptly satisfied, and leaves drying carcasses of sonic gold lying under an unconvincing pop-hop disguise.