Okay, seriously, here’s what you need to know about Purity Ring: They’re a pair of adorably frizzy-haired Canadians who released their debut LP, Shrines, in late 2012 to what idiots on the internet call “critical acclaim.” They also have a super awesome touch-sensitive device made of glowing orbs that acts as a midi controller as well as a mini light projection console (which, as far as onstage gimmicks go, is pretty fucking innovative). Given their relatively congruent personnel rosters, the stylistic comparison to their countrymen Crystal Castles always seemed obvious, but never quite apt; Castles’ sound is built on starkness and aggression, always brandishing a jagged punk edge, while the music of Purity Ring is dreamy and enveloping, forever adrift in a sea of layered atmospherics. The two groups paint radically different pictures with the same textural palette, and that statement never been truer than on Purity Ring’s latest record.
It seems as if composer Corin Roddick and vocalist Megan James sat down one day, methodically isolated every musical trait that animated and distinguished Shrines, cranked them each up to “11” and ripped off the knobs. Another Eternity is like an emperor’s menagerie of electronic string arrangements and gleaming synth wails and gut-wrenching bass oscillation – it’s overwhelming. It all sounds so big, and from such a tiny pair of northerners. The musical foundation is still the duo’s dreamy synthesis of dub, trance and pop, though the extra helping of 90’s radio house influence makes for a far more lucid experience the second around. The creative pull to wedge in the analog sounds that made their first record so varied has slackened significantly. But despite the zealous, computerized clamor, Another Eternity sounds oddly intimate at certain moments. It is after all, just a guy, a girl, and a software program; like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez only in the future and backwards.
There are crazy, colorful electric explosions everywhere you look – “Repetition” is a compelling little piece of futurepop that feels like flying through a colorful hallway made of bloops and bleeps. For the most part it’s more “pop” than future, though, and “Begin Again” kind of sounds like Lorde if the young songstress of the moment took MDMA, wore neon tights instead of black overcoats and worshiped The Orb instead of The Cramps. And what a wonderful world it would have been. Skittering percussion, sinister minor key and ominous lyrics (“The clenching of your teeth / Might help you sleep”) give “Dust Hymn” with a deliberate bit of spook, even despite the bell chime melody. The verse section of “Flood on the Floor” is refreshingly sparse and grants a much needed bit of breathing room amid the crowded electronics. “Sea Castles” starts out like a faux piano ballad – but while James sings on in her lovely, fluttering little voice about the comfort of human frailties, you can hear the synthesizers in the background, quiet but never quite gone, giddily crouched in anticipation and waiting for the inevitable climactic drop.
And maybe that’s what keeps Another Eternity from being a stellar record. Purity Ring’s songs are warm and catchy and east to get lost in for a moment, but none of them really go anywhere – they feel like they’re all written at the same tempos with same, mid-paced, contemporary electronica cadence. “Push Pull” is fun because it breaks up the monotony with polyrhythms, but it’s a regrettably fleeting moment, and I can’t help but feel like Purity Ring has arrived tragically late to the shimmery, head-bobbing dubtronica party, at the point when we’re all a little bit sick of the synth snare fills and bass drops and looking for our coats. Worse, it feels like the two went out of their way to work in these clichés: “Stranger Than Earth” abruptly skids into a clap crescendo in the middle of an otherwise pleasing, totally enjoyable trance-y song. Tracks like “Amenany” from Shrines had a better sense of space and dynamics. Even the range of synth sounds was a smidgeon more diverse.
Another Eternity it full of beautiful, intricate, blooming electronic arrangements, but they feel so crammed in against one another that they’re difficult to appreciate; it’s like the exact opposite problem that the xx has. Granted, Purity Ring’s sophomore LP doesn’t have the obnoxious grimy squelches that might punctuate a dubstep record. But, like, it’s not super far away from that flat brim-infested territory. It’s like an album length Bassnectar remix of an Ellie Goulding song. Which, it turns out, is something that a surprisingly large swath of people seem to really enjoy. Again, there’s good material here in there somewhere, but it’s hard to see the electric forest for the trees.