Purity Ring‘s Megan James and Corin Roddick describe their debut album, Shrines, as one with very strict rules. “All the drums sound a certain way, all the vocals sound a certain way, all the synths… we created a strict palate of things that sort of worked together and tried to make as many different kind of musical ideas within that palette,” Roddick tells Consequence. Indeed, Shrines — which celebrates its tenth anniversary today, July 20th — is an album that represents Purity Ring operating with only their essentials, forging a path that would later define the sound of modern pop, if only for a portion of the last decade.
When you look at Purity Ring’s output following Shrines (2015’s Another Eternity, 2020’s WOMB, and most recently, their EP Graves, which was released back in June of this year), they rightly expanded outwards; after all, a group can only harness a sound within these “rules” before inevitably breaking them. Megan James’ lyrics moved from the poetic-yet-mildly-disturbing lore of Shrines to stories and narratives that were even more personal, finding a myriad of ways to reflect powerful emotions with increasing levels of detail and vulnerability. And Corin Roddick’s production has evolved from the barebones 808s and seismic bass drops to a more expansive and open-ended sound, accompanying James’ stories with appropriate textures and ideas.
But something about Shrines still exists in its own universe; these limiting factors, like lyrical content, drum sounds, and song structures, created a vacuum of space, a brand new arena for pop music that dazzled and hypnotized. “There was something in the air back 2011 and 2012,” says James about the creation of the record. Roddick agrees, nothing that “we were really inspired by the things that were happening a few years before we were a band as well. It’s just kind of the flow of things changing.”
The very DNA of Shrines may seem common today, but ten years ago, it was decidedly novel. Perhaps one of the biggest details was Roddick’s capitalization of southern hip-hop’s trap beats, which featured a plethora of 808 hi-hats in rapid bursts, musical phrases that edged against the back beat, and snaps and snare sounds that were lifted directly from hip-hop’s pioneers.
When looking at the album as a whole, Roddick used an incredibly limited selection of drum sounds, but deliberately overpopulated them on each track — on more patient numbers like “Lofticries” and “Obedear,” Roddick fills the empty space with timbres and textures that feel sleek and algorithmic, where more active songs like “Amenamy” feature such an influx of drum patterns that they end up commanding the track altogether.
Roddick claims that the drums were a huge guidepost in forging the sound of Purity Ring. “I was super inspired by a lot of the drum programming that I was hearing in hip-hop, especially in like kind of southern rap, and a few years later, it would be very common to hear these trap hi-hats over everything,” he says, “but at the time, to me, those sounds that would become really common to me were still kind of exciting and new, this idea of using very hip-hop-inspired drums and combining it with different electronic elements and weird vocal sample manipulation.
“There was a lot of instrumental music that had those types of hip-hop drums and electronic elements combined, but I hadn’t really heard it used in a pop context yet, and I think that’s what really I think set us apart in the Shrines era.”