By Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Purity Ring smashes together virtually every signifier of modern, up-to-the-second electronic pop: washy throbs, synths that sparkle and seethe, hints of hip-hop in the beats, a cooing voice that's all the more haunting for the way it's smeared with AutoTune. But don't mistake the Montreal duo's first full-length album, Shrines, for mere hype-bait. There are bright, charming, provocative songs in here, and they almost invariably find a way to meet in the middle between Bjork's otherworldly eclecticism and the sweet lilt of The Sundays.
Out July 24, Shrines plays around with that juxtaposition between scariness and sweetness, thanks largely to charismatic singer Megan James, who floats above Corin Roddick's whiz-bang arrangements while exuding a sort of girlish menace. "Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you," she pleads in "Fineshrine," requiring all of 11 words to sum up her thorny bundle of sensibilities: cute but visceral, tender but unhealthily obsessed.
It's hard not to place too much emphasis on where Purity Ring fits along an ever more confusing and obtuse spectrum of subgenres and sub-subgenres: Is it chillwave? Witch house? Post-witch house? Is "witchwave" a thing yet? But, really, this is just sleek, shiny pop music; strip away a few advancements in technology and production, and Shrines would have sounded brilliant on college radio in 1991. Throughout their audacious debut, James and Roddick are smart enough to know that "timely" and "timeless" needn't be mutually exclusive.