That's Our Sound and We're Sticking To It: A Review of Purity Ring's another eternity

Purity Ring have always been an interesting musical group. Arriving on the music scene in 2012 with Shrines, they boldly proclaimed their sound as “future pop” before they had even released their debut album. This may seem off-puttingly precocious and assumptive to some, but here is the catch: they weren’t wrong. Their sound is distinctive, progressive, and refined; whirling and distorted synths, sharp, stuttering trap-style snare drums, and pitched vocal samples bely a group interested in fusion to create something new. They combined many elements of electronic and hip-hop to form a new sort of pop music in their sensibilities. For some groups, it takes many albums for the unfettered vision of themselves to come into clearer view, but this was not so for Purity Ring. They knew exactly who they were by first release. Their sound was rightly widely praised, even earning enough plaudits that superfan Danny Brown enlisted their services for his excellent 2013 album, Old.

If there was any complaint about the solid and mostly impressive Shrines, it was that they had such a clear image of their sound that they did not vary it enough. They present the same image, but distort the lens ever so slightly with each song on the album. While there are certainly standouts -- “Fineshrine”, “Obedear”, and “Ungirthed” come to mind -- there was not enough variation to make the album truly excellent, even if the ideas were extremely progressive and influential.

It was always going to be particularly interesting to see how Purity Ring progressed and evolved because they had so clearly defined themselves by the first release. With another eternity, Purity Ring return with another set of solid and mostly impressive songs with slight changes to their debut album. While Shrines had a darker aesthetic, right down to the album art, another eternity is more triumphant and uplifting. A definite attempt to make their sound even more poppy and accessible while remaining true to their influences and sound. Largely, they succeed. They push their sound somewhat, but there is no mistaking their new music for anyone but Purity Ring. Thankfully, that is never a bad thing. another eternity is a good second album; an album with some excellent songs and ideas, but one that does not bring much novelty to their established canon or challenge the listener in new ways.

The album begins with “heartsigh,” and from the first twinkling piano notes, it is clear that the mood on the album is distinctly different from its darker predecessor. This song is full of grandeur. The synths, drums, and vocals are big and sweeping and get you immediately invested in the album. Purity Ring’s producer, Corrin Roddick, even interestingly borrows a sound straight from The Weeknd’s “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls”, the whirling and high-pitched synth adding an unexpected and welcome element to the song.

Following “heartsigh” is one of best songs on the album, “bodyache.” The song begins with xylophonic chimes that are utterly gorgeous. They are perfectly paired with a deep and pounding bass that adds a greater substance to the celestial chimes. Alongside that, the singer, Megan James, soars above the tumult of the chorus while also intimately drawing the listener in during each verse. The song is a beautiful examination of the helplessness of trying to emotionally support someone that is having difficulty emotionally supporting themselves. Lyrics like “I wanna know what’s your quietest feeling / I saw you break out, I saw you break out / I saw you unreeling” are extremely poignant and affecting. It is difficult to see someone fall apart, it is even more difficult to be able to do little about it.

“push pull” is the first single Purity Ring released from their new material, and they made a wise selection. It is glimmering pop splendor; catchy and appealing, but with enough challenging sounds to make it interesting. Megan James is able to catch the ear with beautiful melodies augmented by interesting cadences. She changes the rhythm of “you push and you pull but you’d never know” subtly, but it nestles in your head after first listen.

“repetition” is another excellent song on another eternity (featured on Filet Mig 2/13!). The beginning of the song is awesome, with distorted and breathy vocals surrounded by the echoed and far-away sounds of knocks. The song again exemplifies James’s experimentation with cadence. Her sing-song style on the verses is abetted by snare and clap to form a truly hypnotic melody. This song is more subtle than the others and allows more silence to creep in and accompany the instrumentation.

The last standout on the album is “begin again”. It is darkly epic, synths bubbling beneath higher staccato notes, drawing you in with ease. The familiar trap snare and rattle of their previous work also appears, but in perfectly sized doses. The lyrics meld with the synth stomp, with lines such as, “You be the moon I’ll be the earth / And when we burst start over / Start over oh darling / Begin again.”

another eternity improves on its predecessor in that that the group allows James’ voice to have a greater presence on the music. On their first album, her voice was too often distorted or shrouded by the music. She has a beautiful and sweet voice; one that sounds vulnerable and ethereal. Although it doesn’t always soar above the music, it is the perfect vehicle for her lyrics of desire and contemplation. With their muscular and forceful backing music, it is a winning combination.

A critique of the album, as in their previous effort, is the lack of variety. Although they have once more produced some amazing songs, there is not enough variance on the album for it to be truly great. “stillness is woe” is a very limp effort that closes the album with a whimper. The “seeing double” chorus is extremely repetitive and monotonous. “sea castle” is a solid song, but combined with “stillness is woe” could probably be removed from the album. It can be difficult to make it through the entire album because the music is so sonically similar. At some point as a listener, you are ready to move on or forward.Some of that is that James’ delivery rarely varies and some is that their music is so easily and readily defined. That can be a great strength of theirs, but for an entire album it simply doesn’t remain compelling enough to produce something great.

another eternity is not a drastic change-up of the Purity Ring aesthetic. The synths, trap-influenced percussion, and pop sensibilities are all still there and thankfully so. The album scales some amazing heights, but a major complaint is that it does not offer enough variation to their established sound. Even still, it is an album definitely worth a listen and probably worth owning.