There’s bass and then there’s bass. The vibrations being unleashed by Evian Christ who opened for Purity Ring last Friday at Venue must have been a few decibels away from being classified as a weapon of mass destruction. I’ve only heard legends of the bone-rattling, apocalyptic bass on display at electronic festivals like Shambhala, and I imagine it’s got to be something like this. This kind of frequency wouldn’t just make the water in the glass in Jurassic Park ripple – it would vaporize it.
Fluffy bits of sticky-rice-shaped paper lanterns peppered the black backdrop of the stage, barely swaying from the last-minute preparations of the road crew and the excited, collective breath of an eager crowd. Purity Ring have been on the wet tips of conversing tongues for over a year now, ever since “Ungirthed” said hello to the internet in January 2011 and spread like wildfire. Corin Roddick and Megan James make up the future-pop duo who cut their teeth in the Edmonton area, where they grew up, and its small yet very active indie community. They now split their home-base time between Halifax and Montreal. A year-and-a-half after “Ungirthed” first perked ears around the globe, Purity Ring released their full-length debut Shrines on July 24 this year through 4AD.
I remember hearing Purity Ring for the very first time. It was last summer and I was driving home from a trip to Northern Ontario to see family. I was almost in Ottawa when I was signal-searching on the radio and finally settled on one of CBC’s frequencies. I can’t remember which exact station or show it was, but it was late at night. I caught about half or two-thirds of “Lofticries” and I was hooked. I remember shushing my passenger – “Shhh, shut up… listen… who the hell is this? I love this. What is this?” The next few minutes were spent in strict silence until the host finally threw me the bone – Canada’s own Purity Ring.
They broke the sweaty ice on Friday night with “Belispeak”, one of their darker-sounding songs. The suspended lantern lights pulsed in sync with the beat, giving you something nice and pretty to look at while Megan’s sweet voice spilled coyly from her lips. The light and fluffy aspect of Purity Ring is balanced out by cool, sharp beats and waves of immense, bass-y synth.
The first breathy, sunny bars of “Fineshrine” elicited a big response from the attentive crowd. “Get a little closer, let fold / Cut open my sternum and pull / My little ribs around you.” Only Megan James can turn these wince-worthy words into such a pleasant, honey-soaked hook. She helped underline some of the bass hits with a large skin drum, also light-synced.
The naughty darkroom ambience of “Lofticries” washed over the crowd, as the tune’s primordial bass succeeded in waking the unashamedly primal in a number of humans present, prompting them to dance with open smiles and closed eyes. James walked her area of the stage with her work light as the lanterns continued to shimmer and pulse like lightning hidden behind clouds.
I’m not sure at which point I left my body that night, but by the end of the set, I was swimming with the overwater, multi-coloured, limbless jellyfish floating above the stage while Roddick poured out a reality-grinding, slow beat that made me think of backward molasses.
After countless spins of Shrines and after finally seeing them live, I think I’ve been able to identify why I’m so unwaveringly sucked in by Purity Ring’s sound. Yes, it’s catchy, the bass is big, and I fall in love with Megan James just a little more with every listen, but there’s more to it. As lush and layered as the music is, it isn’t overly so. You can see the broad dark strokes of bass, the specks of synth splashed here and there, and the light-coloured vocals atop it all, but there’s still a lot of canvas left to be seen, and it’s here, in these gaps, where the magic happens. These are spaces where another sample or note or pulse could easily have been thrown in but instead, restraint has been exercised, leaving a work of art where just enough material was used.