When Shrines, the debut album from Canadian duo Purity Ring came out in 2012, this idea that indie music could be highly digitised and contain all the impulses and immediacies of pop music whilst still sounding indie barely existed. And it’s true, first album treated melody and phrasing in such a distinct way that the term ‘sounds like purity ring’ became synonymous with any new act who dared to write subtly intelligent, infectiously melodic songs with glossy, meticulously programmed electronic sounds. If not exactly inventive, Shrines was certainly impressive in its singularity, which was refined and administered with a surgeon-like precision.
You get the feeling that Purity Ring started to feel suffocated by this specific and unambiguous aesthetic they have created for themselves. When speaking about the writing process for this album, instrumentalist Corin Roddick told Pitchfork: “It was a tricky place to be in because, with a second album, we’re trying to evolve and we wanna be new and exciting with whatever new music we’re releasing. But we also have a fan base that likes us for the first album we put out”. The statement almost sounded like an admission of defeat, and this notion of stifling your creative ideas to cash the same cheque as before seems a little sad – especially for a band only on their second album.
Another Eternity still sounds like Purity Ring, though, yet the synths are louder, the bass thuds deeper, and the songs take a more traditional structure where the verses are more defined and the choruses are bigger. This approach to a sophomore album is certainly well versed – take everything that worked before and just turn it all up. Whilst Shrines certainly wasn’t a minimal album, it showed restraint when it was needed, isolating the hooks so that they resonated with maximum effect. James’ vocals would be left to hang in the air; a wobbing bass pedal note would be cut just at the right time. All these direct and compact parts would be allowed to grow bigger and smaller, twisting and unfolding together like cogs in some brilliant twentieth century machine. The glaring, screeching synth repeated on ‘Flood On The Floor’, ‘Stranger Than Earth’, ‘Dust Hymn’ and ‘Begin Again’ sounds obvious and undeliberate, like simplified signposts for the grandiose and the dramatic, aimed at that kind of festival tent, MDMA tinged euphoria that comes with huge sound systems and bigger ‘drops’. This maximalist approach to Another Eternity feels indirect and arbitrary, like a child bashing away at his favourite sounds on a toy keyboard.
This regression is mirrored lyrically, too. ‘Cut out my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you’, James sang on Shrines highlight Fineshrine, as she viscerally conveyed all the desperation and abandon that comes with loving someone so much that it feels like an unhealthy, frightening obsession. And there’s still little doubt that Roddick and James are still brilliant at creating these gorgeous, balanced phrases: “You feared a lonely death like a lake / leaves you alone in her deaths, she cries on ‘Bodyache’, or “You push and you pull and tell yourself no / It’s like when you lie down the veins grow in slow” on ‘Push Pull’. The decision to write less autobiographically makes these sound like empty shells, though, like a stunningly painted sculpture that is completely hollow once you pierce its surface.
With Shrines, Purity Ring sounded one step ahead of the popular music landscape, creating these catchy, compact little songs that sounded just a little bit unfamiliar. And whilst it may seem unfair to keep comparing Another Eternity to its predecessor, it’s troubling to see a band who once revelled in their nuances and their weirdness to completely dilute themselves like this. It’s possible that they underestimated their audience, looking to connect with their more immediate, primal pleasure centres using volume and excess rather than intellectually. James and Roddick clearly have their sights set on mainstream success, but are instead in danger of sounding like one of the many pretenders that their first album spawned, rather than smart, subtly innovative band they once were.