That Voice: Synthpop Duo Purity Ring – ‘Another Eternity’

Purity Ring

New York – Last year, electronic pop iconoclast Grimes released a track called “Go” that she had written for Rihanna. It was a weird moment that showed how all perceived boundaries between seemingly incompatible musical worlds are artificial. Here was a somewhat accidental star, just a few years removed from tiny DIY basement shows, pitching ideas to one of the biggest pop stars in the world. Rihanna ultimately passed on the track, leaving the question of “what would a Grimes song sound like as a Rihanna song” hypothetical for now. “Go” itself, while very interesting as an artifact, is not entirely successful as a song. Its dubstep wobbles sound kind of forced, and it lacks the piles and piles of hooks that Rihanna songs possess. Grimes sounded uncomfortable going so pop.

Purity Ring could write a song for Rihanna without breaking a sweat.

The Canadian synthpop duo’s second album Another Eternity, out March 3 from 4AD, is both enormous and intimate, accessible and mysterious, very accessible and very strange. The band is built on tension and duality. The central conflict is between Corin Roddick’s icy, menacing Knife-indebted synths and drum programming and Megan James’ girlish, vulnerable, kind voice. James’ voice is what truly separates Purity Ring from other electronic acts. Amidst the rumbling bass and frigid synths, James’ plain little voice sounds like a girl trying to teach an evil robot how to love. The only comparable vocalist in electronic music is Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry, who is the magazine-friendly, imitating David Bowie to Megan James’ pioneering Iggy Pop (which is not a knock on Chvrches or Bowie, just that Purity Ring and Iggy Pop were there first).

Another Eternity is a big improvement on Purity Ring’s debut, 2012’s still-good Shrines. Every song on Another Eternity resembles Shrines’ best song, “Fineshrine,” with cavernous, reverberating synths, an anthemic chorus, and a deliberate tempo that encourages dancing, but inwardly, more of an eyes-closed sway than a fist-pump.

The synths on the goosebump-inducing second single “Begin Again” sound like they could be blasted out over a writhing festival crowd at Tomorrowland or Coachella. It’s Purity Ring’s biggest song to date, and contains the best lyrics James has yet published: “You be the moon, I’ll be the earth, and when we burst start over, oh darling, begin again.” James’ main lyrical concerns are still body-obsessed, as they were on Shrines. The nouns on Another Eternity are mostly about bones and hair and body parts, further adding to Purity Ring’s tension between the organic and the synthetic.

Purity Ring is perhaps the finest deeply hip-hop influenced act working that doesn’t actually make hip-hop. They learned how to use menacing 808 claps and downtuned vocals from Three 6 Mafia, but use these ingredients to make kindhearted pop music. Purity Ring tracks can be rapped over, as their collaborations with Danny Brown prove, but that’s almost secondary. Again, it comes back to Megan James’ voice and the tension it creates, with these signifiers of macho aggression juxtaposed with a little girlish voice at the center.

And for the record, the Another Eternity track that would work best as a Rihanna song is “Bodyache.”

Another Eternity is available for purchase on March 3 via 4AD, and is currently streaming via NPR.  Purity Ring will hit the road extensively, beginning in April on a tour that will take them from Europe to the U.K. to North America.
Liam Mathews

Liam Mathews

Liam grew up in Rosendale, NY, a little town in the Hudson Valley. Now he lives in Brooklyn. He has a degree in nonfiction writing from The New School. He mostly writes about music, comedy, and style, but he can write about a lot of things. He's written for Playboy, Fast Company, Nerve, and a lot of other places. He's real good at Twitter.
Liam Mathews

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