Purity Ring are back with their long awaited 3rd album. The duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick provided a stand out moment of 2015 with Another Eternity, and its combination of soaring pop vocals, disturbing imagery and glitchy retro electronica. Their live show was certainly memorable, when I saw them at Plug, the images of Roddick playing the giant glowing percussion set while James used her reflective gloves to throw laser beams around the room can’t be forgotten. I can’t have been the only one waiting for new material.
And it’s well worth the wait, first impressions are a more complex sound, a lot more going on, but no compromise on the catchy hooks, the impossibly dark themes, and the soaring almost-comprehensible vocals. After the creeping Rubyindside opener to set the mood, we are into Pink lightning – which despite the “Can’t stop crying,” refrain, could be Purity Ring’s happiest moment on Womb. The distorted vocal opens but then the track brightens, which being simultaneously undermined beautifully by the creeping unease of the jittery beats, the downbeat lyrics, and it’s paired perfectly with the spooky surreal video.
Peacefall follows and could be Purity Ring’s attempt at a pop single. James claiming she is riding the bicycle into the light, the oh-so-catchy hook dissolving into white noise as we go. The wistfulness of the “What am I missing?” refrain taking on extra significance at the moment.
Do you like satan? I like the Devil is the most recent video released,
This felt one of the saddest moments on the album, a track which seems to be about trying to rise above daily horrors and sorrow, and rooted in the horror of mundane personal experiences.
Femia is a light pop song that’s been taken apart and reflected back in an evil way, a little like if the Lighthouse Family wandered into the world of Coraline. If it wasn’t for the jerky electronica, distorted backing vocals and the lyrics about drowning, it could almost sneak onto a Smooth FM playlist. Sinew follows with more restrained vocals that seem to represent a protagonist on the edge of dong something particularly horrific.
Vehemence, with lyrics proclaiming ‘Am I an angel?’, could be a song about hate, and not being able to move through it. Maybe more confrontational than the other tracks, and feeling like you’ve passed through the worst of something and are about to explode. Then appropriately into Silkspun, an album highlight, with its 1980s style up-beat electro opening, but then the drumbeat disappears going into verse, which is way more disorientating than you might think. As James’s chirpy vocals kick in, it’s only gradually that you realise she’s singing about the bottomless blackness.
Stardew closes the album on a hopeful note – with its videogame influenced title, toy clocks, and layers of soaring strings this could easily be on some kind of cartoon tie-in movie (assuming you don’t listen to the lyrics). The track that’s the most pop and it’s hidden away at the end.
It’s an intriguing collection of light and darkness, of modernity and nostalgia for the recent past, all of the elements that make a great Purity Ring record. A record to listen to late at night as you realise that while the world might suck at the moment, beauty can still shine through in the darkest places.
Womb is out now on 4ad. Maybe try clicking on the pink lightning flash in the top right corner of the official site for a more immersive introduction? (And watching the Pink Lightning video if you get stuck).