Poor Moon feature members of Crystal Skulls, Pedro the Lion, and even a couple Fleet Foxes, which speaks to the varied and soft-tempered tonality of the group. Earlier this year, Poor Moon released Illusion EP, a collection of songs that presented their solidified approach to seventies-inspired folk-rock, pointing towards heavy attention to harmonies accentuated by elements of baroque pop. Their self-titled debut plays on similarly familiar sounds while showing the diversity of the group and, due to the questionably short running time, seems to indicate their own awareness of Poor Moon functioning as a taste test.
I find myself drawn to the small details within each track above anything else. The lyrics on album-opener “Clouds Below” are “Long path leading to a mountain so high/Crickets scurry as we pass them” and, later in the track, cricket-chirps are re-appropriated as an instrument. The innocence of Poor Moon gives this track a feeling of child-like optimism that materializes in lyrics with nature-focused lyrics and calm recollection. “Holiday” has a slight bossa nova temperance to it, paired with subdued verses à la Kings of Convenience, and generally gives the impression of being snowed-in with loved ones. Also, the organ-heavy “Heaven’s Door” pushes Poor Moon past sounding like every other folk-rock foursome prototype since they’re clearly interested in exploring sounds that other bands in their genre would shy away from. Not to mention the darkness of lyrics like “with the taste of flames going down my throat” and the inclusion of menacing imagery like a man with a pitchfork.
Some songwriting may lead to the inevitable comparison between Poor Moon and Fleet Foxes, more obviously on tracks like “Phantom Light,” “Birds,” and “Come Home.” But this relationship is bound to exist since two-fifths of Fleet Foxes contribute to half of the songwriting on the album. Before they become pigeonholed as Fleet Foxes Lite, Poor Moon should be understood as a separate entity, not a side-project. This album feels more intimate and personably laid-back, giving way to a softer overall demeanor.
This record is like a small vacation, there’s nothing polarizing or challenging about listening to it and it’s pleasing to hear. Poor Moon is just one exact half-hour of crystalline alternative folk-rock and it’s brevity allows for the band to experiment with different sounds without sounding too disjointed. If the record doesn’t run a satisfactory length, go ahead and acquire their debut EP, especially since there’s no overlap with their music.
New Zealand three-piece Opossom’s debut album is aurally pleasing, but lacks depth and ultimately falls victim to its overly ambitious layered sound. Opossum was formed by former Mint Chicks frontman Kody Neilson, and Electric Hawaii is clearly a labour of love. The album features pop singer Bic Runga (whom every Australian or New Zealander worth their salt will recall from her 90s hit single “Sway,” a song eternally remembered on commercial radio), but even her input can’t lift the album out of its overwhelming feeling of sameness.
Purportedly pop-psychedelia, Electric Hawaii is a passable 30 minutes. Opener “Girl” is reminiscent of The Velvet Underground & Nico’s “Femme Fatale,” albeit sped up. Unfortunately, after “Fly,” a worthy second track, the album quickly loses shape. “Blue Meanies” and “Getaway Tonight” have something of a pulse, but the remaining seven tracks sound like an inexperienced teenager fooling around with GarageBand or jamming on a Casio keyboard with no specific idea in mind.
Electric Hawaii isn’t a throwback to legendary, ’60s Wall of Sound production so much as it is pioneering something quite new—an interminable Labyrinth of Sound, coursing out as unendingly as the sounds from a powered-up fax machine. Deducing meaning from any of the 10 tracks is virtually impossible, as the vocals have been synthesized and layered indiscriminately. It’s pleasant enough, and I tried to like it, but Electric Hawaii makes it so hard to feel any sort of identification with anything. Is there passion, is there profundity in 30 minutes of variations on a boring theme, fed through what sounds like some kind of bloopy beepy supercomputer? Perhaps I need a musical re-education in electronica, but unfortunately Electric Hawaii does not seem a good place to learn. I’m reminded slightly of the very excellent Discovery, an erstwhile collaboration between Ra Ra Riot’s lead singer and Vampire Weekend’s keyboardist/all around wizard. The comparison falls short however, as Discovery’s one release, 2009’s LP, was endearingly gawky in places but overall solid good fun.
There is very little joy to be found in Electric Hawaii, and perhaps the clue is in the album name; bright and arid, it goes on for what seems like forever and dulls your senses after a time.
Lianne La Havas’s debut Is Your Love Big Enough? is a smooth, well-produced introduction into the world of soul-infused pop. It also couldn’t have come at a better time.
Firstly, there’s her voice. Forget about a certain pregnant Grammy-award-winning singer who’s had a very successful 2012. La Havas has a smoky edge to her voice that never grates, and she makes good use of it, restraining it instead of cracking out long notes all the way through simply because she can. I recommend everyone play Is Your Love Big Enough? at least once, just for the pleasure of hearing the sound of honey dripping through your speakers.
Secondly, there’s the material. It seems that the distinct “training wheels album” artists used to have is missing nowadays; these albums were full of confessional lyrics that seem profound but are too cryptic to truly be deep, mostly about teenaged love and the attendant hormonal rushes. “Is Your Love Big Enough” is complete with those cute little pretensions (“Au Cinema” as you would expect, imagines a love story unfolding as a film), lyrics about being drunk, and immature themes; Lianne has written an album that you would expect a 22 year old to make. The only way it could be more typical was if it had been recorded in a bathroom using a super-vintage tape recorder she’d unearthed in the attic.
Is Your Love Big Enough? is pitch-perfect and every kink has been smoothed out (no doubt on Warner Brothers’ dime). This is perhaps Is Your Love Big Enough?’s only flaw, strangely enough: that it’s almost flawless. Everything is just so polished and pretty as a picture; it would have been heartening to hear a little roughness around the edges. This is why I don’t buy the idea of marketing La Havas, talented though she is, in any way as an alternative artist. An acoustic guitar or two does not an indie record make. It seems like the same sort of contrived falseness that we saw earlier in the year from those who tried to push Lana del Rey as some kind of cartoonish, wild, folk princess outlaw, rather than admit the fact that she is little more than a trust fund baby/cruiseline singer with big eyelashes.
Despite this, all signs point to Lianne La Havas making it big, and that’s how it should be. I would predict her success on the basis of the track “No Room For Doubt” alone. This collaboration with Willy Mason is absolutely beautiful, and well worth the price of the album alone. In fact, I’d happily buy her next record if it just consisted of her singing the UK Yellow Pages; such is the magnetic pull of her voice.
Is Your Love Big Enough? is a self-assured, capable and smoothed-out debut from Lianne La Havas, and it serves as an encouraging sign of things to come.
The headline of Rozay’s latest album reads: “The Untouchable Maybach Music Empire Presents,” which indicates a lofty statement that exemplifies the fictitious wealth of Rick Ross as a character and is the first instance of self-aggrandizing labels that hold no weight in reality. Ross has managed to lodge himself firmly in the rap game by assuming the role of a super-wealthy, Miami-based drug lord based on his own fictitious origin story. He’s somehow managed to get in good with the entire Young Money family, constantly found alongside Wayne and Drake, teaming up with all-star DJ Khaled line-ups, and even nestled in the beginning of Kanye West smash hits. As far as Maybach Music goes, Ross is implementing the same Junior M.A.F.I.A. -style rap gang but with the low-budget counterpart like that of GOOD Music and Young Money, some members of which are even found on this album. God Forgives, I Don’t sparks many questions, but the most increasingly difficult to answer is, “Why should I care?”
Straight from the beginning prayer on the record, Ross is back in the lavish lifestyle that he somehow earned from slinging keys of coke in Miami. He offers nothing stylistically in his vocals, aside from his patented husky delivery that makes brand names seem even more validating. In fact, the largest contribution to hip-hop that Ross has made can be found simply in his signature grunt, (#RickRossGrunt). On this record, Ross is only concerned with promoting the concept that crime pays well, and that he knows firsthand; he claims to do nothing but indulge in sex, luxury, and vast quantities of food all day. But he’s not at fault, really. His role as a rapper has always been along the vein of gluttonous satisfaction and empty threats, so why should he reinvent himself as anything more or less? He doesn’t need to rely on traditional hip-hop storytelling because he doesn’t need to explain himself or his character beyond the fact that he’s rich as hell from imaginary drug-dealing. Ross only ever really raps about living amidst gratuitous wealth and never about the struggle he faced to get there. His whole shtick completely dissolves after the first three tracks and Ross is left sounding like a wondrous child, bragging about an unreal life to anyone who will listen.
The guests on the record should have been outstanding; pairing Ross with Jay-Z, Nas, and even the untouchable André 3000 should be amazing. The real gamble comes from whether or not the guests perform to their highest caliber and, for the most part, they fall short of spectacular. Dr. Dre spends much of his time making the same delusional claims as Ross, stating that he’s owned rap for the past 20 years, and signs off by plugging the headphone brand that everyone is already well aware of. Jay-Z, while nimbly toying with lines that convey vague mafia undertones, ultimately surrenders to the fact that he’s extremely wealthy (and a new father). Maybach Music’s Wale is given his billionth chance for redemption (after dropping one incredible mixtape and nothing great since) but blows it by rapping off-kilter about nothing. Even the talented John Legend feels unwarranted, especially after Omarion, Usher, Drake, Ne-Yo, and Elijah Blake. I don’t mean to diminish their contributions, but their overwhelming presence might make this one of the most solid R&B records to drop this year.
In fact, the only guest that lives up to any sort of expectation is André 3000 on “Sixteen,” where Ross finds himself unable to rap about his life in simply sixteen bars but, oh wait, it’s Rick Ross and that’s preposterous. If Ross had any inkling of authenticity, I’m sure he would have alluded to it before now, halfway through his fifth album. However, sweet-talking vagrants like André, who has an incredibly long history making his raps malleable, are totally justified in needing more rhyming space. In fact, André is one of the best guests, second only to the Maybach Music girl, whose incessantly repetitive voice might even reach higher acclaim than Ross himself.
God Forgives, I Don’t is overall lukewarm and touches on concepts that Ross has already driven into the ground. If Ross appeals to you as a symbol of unprecedented success or his voice encapsulates the raw feeling of a hustler, you are not alone. In many ways, his recent success comes from his ability to become Rick Ross, an alter ego whose specialty is being nothing more than a given guest spot on the next Lil’ Wayne single produced by Lex Luger. While the literal sound of his voice is unique to the genre, this record offers nothing beyond cosmetically crisp production quality and all the Rick Ross grunts you can handle.
On her first EP, Iggy Azalea has a problem deciding which direction to go, and while it’s been proven time and time again that vocalists can rap and sing at the same time, I’m not sure Iggy quite knows how her voice complements the fairly broad musical styles represented. Part of this disconnect comes from her decision to open with the two strongest tracks on the album - including the amazing second track, massive banger “Murda Bizness” featuring label-mate T.I. - while slowly fading into a semi-successful moray of modern hip-hop sensibilities as it progresses; pop EDM heavily influences her production and vocal delivery. This pop sensibility is most obvious on opening track, “Millionare Misfits,” featuring B.o.B., an artist in a similar sound space as Iggy. The track is a squealing, delicious radio single that sees Iggy and B.o.B. supporting each other more than any 3other feature on the track, a tactic that serves the album well, creating one cohesive song that flows well between the pop chorus and hip-hop verses.
“Murda Bizness,” it bears repeating, is some real hard shit. The giant, super crisp beat suits both Iggy and T.I., highlighting Iggy’s brash, crisp drawl and T.I.’s more laid back flow, though with many of the same, sharp deliveries; these two clearly work well with each other creatively, Iggy’s flow is obviously influenced by T.I. on some level. Though she released this song months ago, “Glory” drops at just the right time to become one of the hottest summer party jams of the year.
But the follow-up track, “Runway”, featuring Kanye West’s current pet pupil Pusha T, is almost the exact opposite. The disconnect between vocalist Iggy and rapper Iggy is obvious when she opens the song’s chorus singing, and while it isn’t necessarily a poorly delivered chorus, and there’s something to be said about her vaguely husky, 5% androgenous voice; the jarring difference in personality when she delivers her verse is hard to wrap my head around. There’s an affectation - maybe even a passion - to her rapping that gives Iggy a unique flow that just isn’t present when she sings. The chorus could be sung by any generic R&B songstress, the beat could be any EDM producer, and though Pusha T delivers an admirable verse, the pieces never come together. Most of these critiques also hold true for “Flash (feat. Mike Posner)”: the beat just doesn’t work with her nasal rapping delivery, especially on such a sexytime slow jam. Posner, like Pusha T, shows her up a bit on this track, his voice more unique and suited to the beat than Iggy’s wet pussy rapping.
The other major problem on the EP is a lack of any fresh content Iggy raps largely about getting money, partying, and fucking up bitches; hardly unique material in today’s rap game. I would also be remiss to not mention the competing Azealea, the lovely Azealea Banks. Banks released a mixtape this summer, just two weeks before Iggy’s Glory EP, and while it’s far from perfect, Banks is clearly the superior lyricist. In fact, most popular female hip-hop artists are better lyricists than Iggy. That’s not to say she doesn’t have her moments - there are more than a few examples of clever wordplay - but the subject matter couldn’t be more stale, recycling 15 years of tired hip-hop tropes.
Closing track, “Glory,” does the best job of pairing her dissparate voices into one package, and the musical arc of the album feels very well composed, starting heavy and fading into a non-reggae but clearly reggae-inspired closing. The bravado here is more personal, with Iggy more hyping herself than hating on others, which pays off in a way the rest of her posturing doesn’t entirely.
Essentially, Glory is a solid hype release for a rising star, with a few questionable choices and a general lack of imagination. Iggy Azalea obviously has a lifetime to refine her sound and intentions, and the promise shows in her rapping and lyrical structure, though not as much the content itself. Hopefully her debut album, The New Classic, follows the more forgiving route for opening of the album: big nasty beats that forgive the lack of depth in the lyrics.
From the first note, Foxygen’s latest EP Take The Kids Off Broadway is an unabashed tribute to the ghosts of musicians past. On their first release for Jagjaguwar since being signed in May, the New York/Washington-based duo call up musical history as though by magic, stirring a bewitching mixture of glam and rock and roll, while adding a surprising modern twist. Each track on the 7 song EP whirls through a musical kaleidoscope, not content to stick to a simple pop song narrative. The opener “Abandon My Toys” starts almost as a reworking of the Jagger/Richards classic “As Tears Go By,” and ends with a cacophony of noise that wouldn’t be out of place on “A Day In The Life.” On “Waitin 4 U” lead singer Sam France moves eerily like Jagger circa “Wild Horses” and “Angie.”
“Teenage Alien Blues” and “Why Did I Get Married” sound as though they were created by the conjoined twin love-child of Marc Bolan and David Bowie, strumming away with two heads and four arms in a dank New York bedroom, inhaling glitter. The third track, “Take The Kids off Broadway,” is a particular treat, almost a clanging bastardization of every ’50s piano schlock song.
Amidst this glorious smörgåsbord of crashing sound and gyrating hips, “Make It Known” is the EP’s obvious standout. Here Foxygen are self-assured, and lead singer Sam France is given more of an opportunity to sing (and even growl!), rather than croon in the manner of his idols. It is undeniably catchy and sexy, and I defy anyone to listen to this and not hear its echoes richocheting in your brain hours later.
Foxygen’s owes a lot of their sound to their influences, and Take The Kids Off Broadway is suffused with glimpses of New York Dolls, T-Rex, Lou Reed, Television and countless others. France’s vocals have been described to me as “exactly like Stephen Malkmus doing Tom Verlaine doing Jagger, every now and then slipping into Nick Cave,” an apt summation of how the twosome have woven the music they clearly so love into a brand new package.
This is my only criticism of Take The Kids Off Broadway: as a new EP from a new band, it is a delight on steroids, pulling you every which way with its quirky, fun inventiveness, but listening to it with even a vague appreciation of the artists name-dropped above however, it can all seem rather derivative. Why listen to a record that sounds like “Exile on Main Street” or “Transformer” when you can put on the real thing?
Nevertheless, there are seemingly few artists today (such as MGMT, and perhaps Ariel Pink, to whom they will undoubtedly be compared) making music like Foxygen, and so this EP is definitely refreshing. Foxygen are clearly destined for big things, and Take The Kids Off Broadway will no doubt find a home on the turntables and iPods of those who yearn for the good old days of glam and rock and roll, as well as those people who just want something to dance to.
Submerging into the depths of past sorrows and loves had become second-nature for the Brooklyn trio after releasing 2009’s Hospice, the much-debated tale of an emotionally abusive relationship under the guise of a hospice attendant and a terminally-ill patient. Their debut was followed by something slightly less depressing, 2011’s Burst Apart, an album concerned with haunting dreams and a fear of moving on. With that distinction, Undersea transitions from its extremely depressing predecessors to a more stylized effort, contradicting its namesake by “rising up,” in a sense. Frontman Peter Silberman uses his voice less to tell a story, and more to provide a feeling, creating an organic atmosphere that penetrates boundaries that aren’t usually associated with EPs. It’s this freedom that not only makes Undersea an exciting turn for the band, but complements their staggeringly impressive catalogue.
Crafted for a headphone listen, the oft-acute precision of instruments through the dense atmosphere of the release spins out of orbit. “Drift Drive” summons imagery of that twilight sensation between consciousness and dreaming, stretching onwards as you fall in and out, “swimming” within the purgatory instead of actually moving. The album then launches into a colossal ballad, “Endless Ladder”, which details the journey that is trying to overcome the pitfalls of heartache, inching closer to the surface, but never quite making it out. It’s what makes the following track, “Crest”, a Jeff Buckley- meets-Portishead tune, with its trip-hop and graceful oceanic falsetto so uplifting, gaining more distance between Silberman’s fears and dreams. Undersea ends with “Zelda”, where he actually enters his own dream and finds himself with his lover, stuck between two different endings, one of fear and one of recovery. It’s a recurring theme across the EP: the inability to conclude, but coming closer to resolve.
The Antlers have cemented their critically acclaimed, albeit young, career by continually making art-rock that pushes the boundaries further than their peers. While only an EP, Undersea holds the potential to be a catalyst to not only improve their status, but surpass their contemporaries. With their inherent skill of creating perfect atmospheres without losing the fluid motion of each track, the EP holds together better than anything they have released thus far. EPs are usually reserved as a vehicle for singles, only giving a few more songs to accent the centerpiece, but in the rarest of cases, they make definitive statements that can outshine their full-length counterparts. You will be hard-pressed to find something as stark and eloquent as Undersea released this year.
Four years after the belated Valentine’s-Day-gift-turned-hyped-EP Chunk of Change, the formation of a five member band, a charming debut LP (Manners) and popularity and adoration that have made them household names (more like apartment/loft for the young and hip), Michael Angelakos has a lot to be proud of regarding his electro-pop project Passion Pit. But what he has in store for their second release, Gossamer, is anything but congenial. As a matter of fact, this just might be the saddest pop album of the year.
Right now in indie music, artists creating hybrids of diverse styles is becoming the norm. St. Vincent, Death Grips and The Weeknd are merely a few who’ve developed careers and influence by smashing two distinctly different genres together with a certain finesse, in the process making remarkable art that was previously inconceivable. Of course, there are subtler forms of this and that’s where you’ll find Passion Pit. With sugary, rock candy-esque pop jams and troubled lyrics about complicated love, Manners proved to be an album of authentic, delectable synth-pop with surprisingly profound lyrical thought. And in a sense, the same can be said of Gossamer. Their latest, however, covers a heap of darker, more mature issues with an incontrovertibly more defined agenda to get Angelakos’feelings across; the album would benefit from some clarity.
Many critics noted a certain post-success of Manners, and how unappreciated its brooding and stressed emotional nature was due to the glossy and infectious pop arrangements. That notion is of more concern to me on Gossamer than it was on Manners. It’s not like Passion Pit make any sacrifice with their loving pop-craft, and the same goes for their anxious lyricism. Yet, as most people listen, the pop is clearly going to come first, and if that’s all they get out of a song on Gossamer, that’s just fine. Also, in that scope, Gossamer plays as a lesser and forgettable record when juxtaposed to past efforts. There’s obvious influence from new wave ’70s/’80s radio pop, but it tends to stick less when you’re used to the more original college-rock-gone-synth-pop hybrid found on Manners. The challenge of separating the pop from the emotional weight of Angelakos’ psyche becomes tougher considering how cohesively they work on Gossamer. On tracks from Manners like “Moth’s Wings” and “Seaweed Song”, the differentiation was easily made; easily heard, piercing lyrics made clear the unsettling sadness Angelakos’ poetry had to offer. Songs on Gossamer like “I’ll Be Alright” or “Carried Away” obscure that moroseness, and without a sheet of lyrics, you’d never know it. There are certain moments where it is more obvious; the intro, “Mirrored Sea” or the closer “Where We Belong,” where Passion Pit shifts gears to make pop music that sounds more stressed, all show signs. But a full play-through of Gossamer wouldn’t let on to what’s really going on inside, and that’s a shame.
When examined closely, Gossamer can be a gorgeously studded record with harrowing tales of depression and abuse, but it doesn’t let on easily, and my primary concern is exactly that. Gossamer would be a true winner had it contained with the elegant accentuation of Manners. Passion Pit is certainly growing in all the right ways artistically, but Gossamer illustrates that it is not easy to build art out of clashing ideas.
While it feels like many contemporary artists only release music simply for the sake of releasing music, some albums exist to make musical statements, and in a sense, advance musicality in general. Of all the doom metal bands in the world, there are a few that stand out as being innovators, and Om is one of them. On their fifth studio album, Advaitic Songs, Om reinvent Arabic music as monolithic, drone-heavy rock that perfectly spans the territory between psych-rock, doom metal, and traditional Arabic music.
My accreditation with metal in general comes from listening to, writing, and performing hard rock and metal of various styles over many years. Talent and originality are much harder to come by than it may seem; most artists’ idea of originality in metal is the introduction of instruments other than bass, guitar, or drums. In that sense, Om’s entire methodology could be seen as an upset; they are a band consisting of only two people: a bassist/vocalist and a drummer. Given this, it’s surprising that they can even compete within the genre, but Om succeed with songwriting and arrangement skills far superior to many others.
On Advaitic Songs, more than any other album of theirs, Om emulate the sound of Tibetan chants, with deep, droning bass underlying sparse and repetitive melodies that get tossed between both instruments and vocals, making the arrangements simultaneously heavy and dense, yet thin and repetitious; the balance is perfect, and the atmosphere is flawless. The effect is most evident on ”Haqq al-Yaqin,” a piece that, at 11-and-a-half minutes, is the longest on the album. Repetitive percussion makes the perfect foundation for the alternating cello riffs and sparse, sung verses. It’s entrancing, and even though the song never evolves rhythmically, it’s the dense nature of the song that gives it its appeal. After the halfway mark, the vocals drop out and give way to a multitude of solos from various instruments, both ethnic and modern in nature, capping the album with beautiful harmony.
Of any song, “State of Non-Return” is definitely the keeper, featuring traditional doom elements such as distorted guitars and metal drumming next to cello riffs and sinister vocals. The words almost seem to be directly translated from Arabic, lacking grammatical clarity, but brimming with prophetic description: “Then the tomb release me/And the phoenix rise triumphant/And walks into the solitude ground/The soul submerge intense.” Religion runs deep within the album’s veins, from the title of the record, which references Hindu philosophy, to the portrait of John the Baptist (a prophet preceding Muhammad) on the cover, and the “Mantra for Healing” in the album’s opener, “Addis.” It’s a somber kind of reverence, one that seems like the musical incarnation of a sort of concentrated, mature religious study.
While Advaitic Songs is a testament to the power of originality and concept, it’s only downfall is its musical content. Although it works advantageously in places, the repetitive, droning nature of some songs becomes a bit too lengthy and drawn-out at times. The opening three minutes of “Sinai,” for instance, are little but a drone, and the rest of the song does little in the way of advancing that sound. It’s ten minutes that, after the first listen, becomes a bit tedious. There are sections of the other songs that follow suit, but where the album falls short in content, it certainly makes up for in atmosphere.
Advaitic Songs is the type of album that will reward listeners with one of the most well-crafted atmospheres this year has offered up so far, and in doing so progresses the entire genre of doom metal (and psych-rock). Though it’s musically sparse content may get a little monotonous at times, it’s originality, arrangement, and meticulous attention to detail make it a drastic standout.
Purity Ring appeared on the scene in early 2011 with their single, “Ungirthed,” a track oozing with chopped and screwed qualities reminiscent of electro-wizard Star Slinger. About one minute into the track, we hear the voice of Megan James, bringing an oblique sense of intimacy to Corin Roddick’s otherwise anonymous and vast track. She dizzyingly repeats “Teeth clicking/ears ringing” so much that the words feel empty, functioning as nothing more than sound. Just glancing at the tracklist for Shrines gives the impression of some sort of pidgin with names like “Saltkin” and “Amenamy,” which is fitting since their music draws greatly from ethereal electronica and Southern-style hip-hop, combining to create their own form of communication. On paper, Purity Ring may sound like the next big thing to come and go, no more permanent than the next buzz-worthy band, but Shrines sets them apart because of some small differences. The vocals are pop-friendly, their instrumentals are imaginative, and their lyrics, though incredibly vague at times, lose any predictability when they imbue their music with drowsy, Houston-style hi-hats. Megan James’ spritely presence seems more like a guide through an unfamiliar landscape instead of a decorative garnish. Her cherubic delivery is captivating, adding movement to otherwise predictable beats.
Their most striking tracks are when they shed their shiny pop hooks for more sinister, reeling beats. “Cartographist,” which bears a strong resemblance to the music from the “Bunker” level of the Nintendo 64’s “Goldeneye”, kicks off with hauntingly slow vocals, quickly cutting out and starting again while James pours over. It’s such a bizarre departure from the rattling soiree that is “Obedear”, and it really presents a different texture for listeners who might see their music as shallow. The foghorn sound on “Shuck” mixed with the emotionless promise from James to “take up your guts/to the little shed outside/I’ll shuck all the light from my skin/and I’ll hide it in you” makes for the most polished, unnerving darkwave track of the recent past. She also shies away from her eccentric pop approach in favor of a slowed down, wandering melody. As the album ends, after songs and songs of beats dropping and catchy vocal runs, Purity Ring just seem to slip away.
Of course, the main draw to Purity Ring comes from their heavily danceable tracks like “Crawlersout” and “Obedear” that contain unassuming synths and James’ catchy melodies; they border on R&B but never quite reach significant force. Even though Purity Ring raised eyebrows with their own take on electronic music, they sometimes fall short of standing out completely. How many times can you write the same sort of song before they begin lacking in substance? Perhaps their popularity comes from how much their music succeeds in a genre filled with dozens of artists breaking daily, although they don’t actually function as anything greater or lesser.
Shrines is beautifully crafted, and obviously took time, as their singles were staggered by six months each, but their methodical approach may wear thin for some listeners. There’s a number of ways to completely pigeonhole Purity Ring by presenting them as Poliça’s kid siblings or a trill version of Crystal Castles, but Purity Ring is more than simply beats and pretty vocals. They have propelled themselves beyond just a small electro-pop duo to possibly claiming “album of the year” honors across the internet. Shrines proves that Purity Ring have not only avoided shoddy workmanship in hopes of being carried by the success of their singles but they’ve contributed to the vast landscape of electronic music, emerging with their own concrete sound.