Flooding the market with new music is de rigueur for emerging acts, but Purity Ring has stood out by slowing things down to a trickle. Buzz about the pop duo, which will release debut album "Shrines" (4AD) on July 24, surged to viral status on the back of just three online singles released between January and August 2011. The first, a darkly melodic earworm called "Ungirthed," came out of nowhere, but earned a coveted "Best New Music" stamp from Pitchfork. "Lofticries" and "Belispeak" completed the hat trick and, after a memorable CMJ Marathon showing in October, the young act managed to prove that it was the real deal.
"It's one of those things where you hear the music and it's great, and then, once you see them live, you realize there's this whole other element to it," says 4AD U.S. label manager Nabil Ayers, who signed the band following its CMJ show. "After that, we just had an incredibly strong desire to work with them."
Purity Ring's Corin Roddick, 21, and Megan James, 24, are childhood friends from Edmonton, Alberta, who both hail from musically inclined families. Roddick had been a drummer in the electronic band Gobble when a penchant for Southern hip-hop lured him into beat production. In December 2010, he sent an early track to James to see if she might be interested in singing over it, and what came back was "Ungirthed."
"It was a strange proposition, and I'd never really done anything like that before," James says about answering Roddick's call. "But I was really into what Corin was doing - I thought the music sounded amazing - and we'd known each other a really long time."
Since then, the songs the two friends have composed are drawn from the same sonic pallet. Roddick is an exemplary pupil of the "witch house" school of producers - which includes influential laptop wizards like Clams Casino, Salem and Holy Other - championing dark, swirling synth beats with skittering trap-rap drums and haunting, warped vocal samples. But James elevates the compositions above the fray, with her cherubic vocals adding sweetness and light that keeps the band teetering on the edge of pop radio.
"We spend time writing on our own," Roddick says of the duo's collaborative process, which relies on email since they no longer live in the same town. "I'll work on a track for a few weeks to a few months, and when she sends me back the vocals I'll rework it around what she sang," he says. "Sometimes I'll even strip away the entire thing and build something new based on what she's done. I'm very interested in perfecting things. That's part of the reason why we took our time releasing music."
Purity Ring recently embarked on a tour opening for Dirty Projectors and will headline its own tour in the fall. Ayers has the highest confidence in the music and wants to put the band in front of as many people as possible through touring, advertising or licensing.
"This is one of those projects where there aren't a lot of tricks or bells and whistles or flashy things going on," Ayers says. "The band is great, the album is great, the live show is great. Our job is just to go out there and make the connection."