The Newer Flesh: Purity Ring’s another eternity

AnotherEternity

(4AD, released March 3rd, 2015)

Reviewed by Rob Bockman

It’s a crowded field out there for an electronic pop act: there’s enough chillwave out there to drown a thousand seaside villages, enough house, garage, and bedroom electro to populate a neighborhood. For Canadian duo Purity Ring, though, it’s a playground—their concerts are as much artistic events as showcases for dreamy, dark chamber pop. In another eternity, the follow-up to their superb 2012 Shrines, the band returns with a new album of pop songs for the post-Singularity, all packed with shiny and warped beats for machines and lyrics that outright mock the fragility of flesh, but it fails to find purchase to match their grand ideas.

Understanding the album starts with recognition of its size: there’s a scale and scope to the album that extends beyond individuality—recurring lunar imagery, references to geological time—and casts it in almost philosophical ahumanism. Even the album and track titles—all lowercase, no punctuation—emphasize the erasure of the “I.” There’s no space for a concept of the individual in another eternity, just self-awareness enough for brief bursts of lyricism that mirror the expressive but aloof texture of band member Corin Roddick’s production. Or, at least, that’s the initial impression. The true narrative of Purity Ring, of course, is that, perceived chilliness aside, it’s an incredibly personal and meticulous project: the work of two artists pulling multiple duties, from Roddick’s instrumentation and production double-dip to Megan James’ vocals and lyrics and live experiential design. This is a band that couches their artistry in carefully-constructed coolness, a band that titled their debut record, with extreme import, Shrines.

Although more varied tonally than their last album, another eternity doesn’t have anything to add to the Purity Ring aesthetic. Instead, we get “bodyache,” a track full of repetitive lyrics and beats that wouldn’t be amiss—undistorted—on a Taylor Swift track, while “repetition” hangs a lamp on the album’s static dullness, with its vocal samples and flat percussion building to nothing, but at great effort. Structural centerpieces “dust hymn” and “begin again” do a better job of marrying the lushness of James’ lyrics to Roddick’s instrumentation, with “dust hymn” especially fusing the spacey edge of the sparse track to sentiments like “there’s a dew under the bed where/sweat and dreams hath tread.”

At the band’s best—as in Shrines or in the tracks they’ve cut with Danny Brown—there’s an internal tension to Purity Ring’s music, a panoply of paradoxes, that finds voice in the sacred kind of carnality in James’ lyrics, as when she sings in “push pull,” “Make a ladder of what folds/And climb up in me,” or in “seacastle,” when James gnaws out “I could taste your vulnerable parts” as a musing threat.  James may be the most corporeal lyricist since Jeff Mangum, blending body horror and utterly charming imagery (“I built a constellation lair/Out of the moles that hovered there”) to suggest the frailties and rewards of the flesh. Look no further than the band’s website—all eye-watering white text on a subtly-gradated background of membranous pink—and you’ll see that, while physicality is complicated, Purity Ring wouldn’t have it any other way. On another eternity, though, the inertia of weighty flesh stifles any real tension, and we end up with a scant thirty-five minutes of creation that, even then, outstay its welcome.

Tracks to Watch: “push pull,” “begin again,” “dust hymn”

Tracks to Avoid: “bodyache,” “flood on the floor,” “repetition,” “sea castle”

Setting: If you’re feeling serious ennui & want to feel more, spin it.

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