Another Eternity is another bold, bright spark from Purity Ring
It’s strange the memories that stick with you. I saw Purity Ring in concert two years ago, but the structure of their setlist and the sound of their performance elude me. I do remember, though, the fragile papier-mâché lanterns decorating the stage. I remember the audience, enshrouded by half-darkness and glazed with sweat, swaying to the music as though time had slowed down. I remember wandering to the merch desk at the end of the night, and spotting these dainty hand-made singlets for sale – hand-made, in fact, by Purity Ring vocalist Megan James. The singlets, softly folded in a loose pile, seemed like an impossibly perfect encapsulation of the electronic duo’s aesthetic: personal, idiosyncratic and charming.
But Purity Ring aren’t wearing bespoke singlets anymore. On their sophomore album, Another Eternity, they stride onto the stage in a glamorous nightgown glowing under a mirror ball. The fragility remains – beneath that celebratory veneer, there’s a prominent edge of regret and reflection – but we are no longer swaying gently: this is a dance party, motherfuckers.
Is it strange that the first thing I thought of listening to opening track “heartsigh” was Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”? Probably. (If nothing else, there’s a carefully collated sense of cool here that wouldn’t allow for any of Ms. Tyler’s cheese, though maybe the schoolboys with creepy-glowing-eyes can join in, as they “glimmer in the dark”.) But when the rat-a-tat drum machine, the club-ready sirens and the dubstep accoutrements accumulate, it’s clear that the pedigree is pop: producer/instrumentalist Corin Roddick’s espoused admiration for Katy Perry and Taylor Swift is more than lip service.
The lyrics retain that combination of personal expression filtered through obfuscatory poetry that set their first album, Shrines, apart from the chillwave-slash-synth-pop pack. James’ lyrics expand their scope from the intimate physicality of that album towards the earth and the sea; she sings of flaws dried out in blue beds, water spilling down o’er the glass (the “o’er” is a precise quote from their lyrics sheet, in case you were concerned they’d lost their quirkiness) and a girl losing her voice down by the river. That last line comes from “flood on the floor”, one of only a couple songs on the album where Roddick’s pop production and James’ vocals comes across as unbalanced. Perhaps it’s no accident that this is also one of the few songs that seems to be another person’s story, rather than pages torn from a tear-stained diary.
For the most part, however, Another Eternity maintains the equilibrium between James’ reveries and Roddick’s beats. The inclusion of the big dance floor flourishes obscure Shrines’ delicacy, but don’t destroy it entirely; the production is beefed up but still spare, purposeful. This nightgown is bolder, brighter, sparklier. The seductive, insidious pulse of “dust hymns” demonstrates that the duo’s collaborations with rappers like Danny Brown and Angel Haze was a two way street – at least until it swerve off into four-to-the-floor maximalism – while it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear a robust track like “repetition” towards the upper echelons of the top 40.
“repetition” feels like the clearest point with which to connect Another Eternity to Shrines; its title feels reflexive, like a knowing apology for a song that’s in the vicinity of a dance remix of “Fineshrine” (the greatest track of 2012, in case you were wondering). The lyrics recall that song, as James entreats her audience to “climb up in [her] rattling spine and I’ll contract”, much as she promised to embrace her lover within her sternum in “Fineshrine”. That physicality – that conflation of sub-cutaneous intimacy with emotional intimacy – is less prevalent in the lyrics of Another Eternity, but it's still suggested by its titles: “heartsigh” and “bodyache” and “push pull.” (The lower case conceit is a touch misleading, though. Here the softly-pencilled prose of Shrines has been traced over in thick, felt pen, in capital letters of course.)
Appropriately, then, the net effect of the record is very much a physical one. Another Eternity is intoxicating, like the firefly shards of a party fading and dying in your throat.