Portmanteaus swarmed the tracklist of Purity Ring’s first album, Shrines, where singer and lyricist Megan James knit old words together into new mutants. The poetry she wove through the music described bodily horrors oblique enough to be terrifying. Her delivery, coy and often smeared with effects, compounded the discomfort. Another Eternity is less concerned with cracking ribs and oily pastes. It cuts cleaner lines than the visceral murk of Shrines, and while some of Purity Ring’s engrossing ambiguity has dried up, the shapes that this second record leaves newly bare are just as fascinating.
Another Eternity begins with two more neologisms, but they scan much more readily than those on Shrines. “Whisk away your heartsigh/ Bury it in mine,” sings James on “Heartsigh”, while on “Bodyache” her relationship to her own corporeality feels more tangible and fringed with guilt: “I cried till my body ached.”
Working the knobs and the sequencing pads, producer Corin Roddick orchestrates Another Eternity with bold, dramatic strokes. Shrines proved that he had his thumb on the pulse of the electronic mainstream; his gentle wubs nodded to 2012 dubstep without giving away too much in the way of sardonic mimicry. In the three years since Shrines, EDM exhaustion has lent the mainstream more of an appreciation for minimalism, and Roddick programs accordingly. He’s honed in on textures similar to those that have preoccupied Arca and the PC Music tricksters, and his instrumentals feel more deliberate as a result. Take the twinkling bell trills and square wave bass blasts on “Bodyache” or the steep, analog oscillations of “Flood on the Floor”: These are braver choices than those on Shrines, nuzzling right up to the boundary of bad taste.
Purity Ring has never been shy about its debt to mainstream pop. If you want, you can hear a little bit of Taylor Swift’s vocal flow in Eternity’s lead single “Push Pull”, just like you could have heard an echo between “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “Ungirthed” in 2012. The Edmonton duo has sharpened its hooks this time around, too; “Push Pull” simplifies the band’s relationship to pop pleasure, diving right into an unabashedly sticky chorus.
As lyricists, though, James and Swift couldn’t be more different. James remains focused on the body itself, not its accessories; she’s more likely to write about the red of oxygenated blood than that of a classic lipstick shade. She invites you to climb into her spine on “Repetition”. She’s still not scared of grossing you out. But there’s a mournfulness around Another Eternity that didn’t haunt Shrines, a subtle twinge of regret that kicks at the edges of her lyrics. “Watching me is like watching a fire take your eyes from you,” James sings on the chorus of “Repetition”. “There’s a light in my skin that’s been dimmed.”
These images are strange, but they’re legible. James toys with fire and sex and violence in a way that feels both novel and fundamentally satisfying. Her relationship to desire is complex, and she still sings about it like it’s the most self-evident thing in the world. Why wouldn’t you warn a partner that their gaze might cause them to combust inside their own skull?
If there’s a pathway into Purity Ring’s lyrical enigma, maybe it can be found on “Begin Again”. “You’ll be the moon, I’ll be the earth/ And when we burst, start over/ Oh darling, begin again, begin again, begin again,” James sings. There’s that fire once more, only this time it’s burning up the whole planet and its only satellite. Her volatile romantic attachment runs parallel to the end of the world itself, love wrapped up in apocalypse, but there’s some hope beyond doomsday. There’s hope that the gravity that binds these two figures will be released as each bursts into shards, free to make its own way in the universe. It’s a heavy, elliptical metaphor, but it works when delivered in James’ light and welcoming voice. It’s one hell of a way to talk about dysfunction.
Then there’s that title, Another Eternity, a phrase taken from “Begin Again”. The two words form a paradox together, but they also describe the weight love has when each new commitment feels like it could be another “forever,” even as it’s breaking down. The album itself deals in paradox, too: light and pleasing to the ear, it’s an easy pop dose unless you choose to pay close attention to the lyrics. Then it becomes one of the most wrenching listens of the year.
Essential Tracks: “Bodyache”, “Repetition”, and “Begin Again”