Purity Ring‘s third album comes five years after their last effort, but it would appear that the duo of Megan James and Corin Roddick has lost none of their charm and drive. The long gestation of Womb is at an end and, while it takes time for the delicate petals of this album to unfurl, its true beauty soon becomes fully apparent.
Part of the appeal of Purity Ring’s perfectly judged pop (and it is pop) is the hidden depths it possesses. A cursory listen would have you believe that there’s little more to their songs than cute, apparently delicate vocals and icy cold and slick production. At times they sound like an aloof version of Chvrches, but there’s an edge here too. Primarily, as the album title suggests, the focus is on the female anatomy, but there’s enough going on here in terms of blood, sweat and tears (and emotions) that makes the album entirely inclusive. At times, when metaphorically knee deep in viscera and bodily fluids, it starts to feel as if David Cronenberg might have given a helping hand with the lyrics.
Opening the album with rubyinsides (no capitalisation here), the Purity Ring waste no time in cranking up the weird imagery. On the surface, it’s a beautiful love song that finds James stating “If I could I would let you see through me”. However, she also wants to stretch her skin over a heat source and flood halls with “rubyinsides”. In lines like “Moisture from their breath, covers to bring our death, the warmth of their health hovers, to keep us unwell” Purity Ring appear to have summed up virus transmission and current healthcare issues. That it’s all contained within a perfectly produced, if somewhat claustrophobic, pop tune makes it all the more effective and, to some degree, unsettling.
Femia addresses the subject of death directly and was written about the passing of James’ mother’s sister. Again there’s a lot of focus on fluids, liquid, breathing and drowning. Although it faces thoughts of loss and sorrow full on, James fills the space within Roddick’s soundscape with some beautiful and breathtaking vocals. Ideas of breathing and bodily fluids carry on into sinew, but here, Purity Ring appear to have taken an almost spiritual form. A weird love song, it focuses on the minutiae of a relationship and physical contact, whilst exploding the whole experience to a point where it’s possible to take in the splendour of an entire landscape that is both massive yet claustrophobic. It’s a truly breathtaking moment.
Just as there’s a focus on the body, Purity Ring also incorporates aspects of physical geography into these songs. There are mountains, seas, oceans, clouds, and lakes everywhere. The result is an album that equates the human experience to the ebb and flow of the natural world. Oceans, clouds and mountains can be serene and beautiful, but they can also be threatening wild and dangerous. Womb takes all of these aspects into account and, in so doing, becomes beautiful but also wildly unsettling. Roddick’s production is wilfully soft focused at times, drifting when it needs to, and that allows James to occupy a space where she can flit around the melodies and beats like a curiously coloured butterfly. Never quite crushed on the wheel, she’s stronger than that. If her vocals seem delicate, then the content of her lyrics suggests otherwise. Womb contains a world that is by nature red in tooth and claw, and Purity Ring have found a way to marvel at every single aspect of the experience.