Courting the powers of the internet’s music glitterati can be a dangerous game. Done well, it’ll help you break out of the shackles of being web-famous to being a real life star, only to be sniped at by the very people who claimed to be ‘first on’ your work – not that Lana Del Rey particularly cares about what some blogger from berkshire thinks about her anymore. Done badly and you’re stuck in an endless cycle of getting premieres on ever less glamorous blogs, playing to every diminishing crowds and eventually, just bitching about everything that has gone wrong in your fledgling career to your thousand or so twitter followers who’ve already moved on to the next thing.
For the minute, Purity Ring have played the system perfectly. They’ve gone from obscurity to being the darlings of the Pitchfork set and 4AD’s hottest new property in the time it takes a lot of hype bands to get together their first live show. Their image – as ever in today’s hit driven world – has been massively important in this, but it’s the songs themselves that have won over pretty much everyone who’s bothered to fight off the apathy and click play on yet another ‘hot new thing.’ Wonderfully unplaceable, the songs trade off the darkness of Colin Roddick’s often sparse backing tracks and the shimmering light of Megan James’ childish vocals. They build upon the work of contemporary hip-hop mixtapes, but only borrowing where forerunners such as jj so obviously stole. There’s a reason that their most recent track – ‘Fineshrine’ – has had about half a million youtube hits in the past two months, with the various illegal rips gaining a similar number amongst themselves on top of that.
Of course, the difficulty comes in knowing how to garner such stats – the lifeblood of the music industry today – without giving the entire game away. The intention is naturally to sell as many copies of their debut as they possibly can, letting word of mouth do the footwork where their marketing budget can’t. The by-product is that fans that have long awaited Shrines are left in a precarious position upon their first listen of the record. There is no doubt that the duo have made a glorious LP that is doubtless going to be sitting pretty atop many end of year lists come… well, November, but the fact remains that the best 5 songs of this 11 track album have been heard before over the course of the past 12 months. ‘Belispeak’, ‘Ungirthed’ and ‘Lofticries’ all racked up plays and hyperbole through the bands soundcloud page way back, whereas ‘Obedear’ and ‘Fineshrine’ (the standout by far) were used in promotion for the record itself, giving their profile a much needed boost, but simultaneously meaning that the record itself lacks the impact that it so easily could’ve had.
In the long run, this shouldn’t really matter massively, but the internet is an unpredictable beast, all fervent hope followed by nasty backlash and counter-backlash. Once the first play finishes, the feeling should be one of getting overawed in the same way that many were of the Grimes LP earlier in the year, but it’s difficult to fight the worry that the listener has been short changed – sold the sizzle whilst the steak doesn’t live up to those luscious first bites. That’s not to say that the ‘new’ tracks aren’t sublime – opener ‘Crawlersout’ would be enough to get most bands signed, and even the low-light ‘Grandlove’, which features a particularly weak attempt at a rap, is a cut above most of what you’re likely to hear in 2012.
Perhaps it is the comparisons between the new and old work that most compounds the worry of underwhelming. The best of the unheard lot is ‘Anameny’; as upbeat and dance floor friendly as ‘Ungirthed’ was first time round, but more a middleweight to the heavyweight, aching ‘Fineshrine.’ Each track is more a variation on a theme than an individual effort in it’s own right feeds into this – everything on Shrines is undoubtedly a Purity Ring song, with subtle deviations on what you’ve come to know and expect, bereft of a curveball to mix things up a little.
The fairest review of Shrines would likely be from someone who isn’t plugged in to the internet all day, who doesn’t follow the little twitter feuds, desperately chasing the hype whichever way it goes. The problem is that a music fan today has been taught to behave in this way, encourage to leap on everything as soon as possible, imbibe these sounds the moment they’re uploaded to the web. It’s the reason Purity Ring have such a strong fanbase and overwhelming desire from the public to listen to this LP – the same reason the Google Instant suggestions when you type in ‘Purity Ring Shrines’ are ‘zip’, ‘leak’, ‘download’ and ‘rar’. But, sadly, it’s precisely that why this glorious record might start the backlash brewing, despite the fact it is among the top 5% of anything anyone anywhere is going to be listening to this year.
‘Shines’ is released on the 23rd July on 4AD.
Words: Matthew Britton