Montreal's Purity Ring evokes Cronenberg on visceral Shrines
Shrines (Last Gang)
The purity ring seems innocent enough: a piece of jewellery that, taken at face value, symbolizes the wearer’s pledge to abstain from sex. What it really stands for, however, is one side in a culture war—the side that believes that the interests of young people are best served by shielding them from basic facts about sexuality. This is the side that believes enforced ignorance and willful suppression of natural urges will somehow have a positive outcome.
None of this has anything to do with Montreal’s Purity Ring, really, apart from the fact that the duo also embodies a dichotomy. The music on Purity Ring's debut album, Shrines is all glassy synths, programmed beats, and pretty, if slightly twee, vocal melodies enveloped in soupy reverb. At their best—as on “Fineshrine” and “Lofticries”—Megan James and Corin Roddick make impeccably produced music (pitched somewhere between chillwave and witch house, if those tags mean anything to you) that is inviting even as it exudes an aura of Nordic austerity. (There’s a reason names like Björk and the Knife keep popping up in reviews.)
If there’s something a little chaste about how Purity Ring sounds, though, what James sings is anything but. In contrast to her serene delivery, the lyrics to “Fineshrine” are literally visceral, with James inviting some significant other to “Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you.”
It’s a sentiment as romantic as it is disquieting, seemingly born of a desire to merge with another in a way that goes beyond sex. Purity Ring’s songs seem somehow akin to the early work of fellow Canadian David Cronenberg, which was preoccupied with metamorphosis. Filmmaker Cronenberg once told Bomb magazine, “When I look at a person I see this maelstrom of organic, chemical and electron chaos; volatility and instability, shimmering; and the ability to change and transform and transmute.”
It’s not hard to imagine the director of Videodrome and The Fly appreciating “Belispeak”, which reads like something out of the Brothers Grimm: “Grandma, I’ve been unruly/In my dreams and with my speech/Drill little holes into my eyelids/That I might see you…when I sleep.”
It’s equally easy to picture someone with a weaker stomach—a proponent of abstinence-only education, for instance—recoiling in horror.