Evolution is almost as contentious a subject in music as it is in Wichita science classrooms. Wonks like us are prone to endlessly debate where, exactly, the Goldilocks zone of band-change-over-time actually sits. Not enough risks taken between the freshman and sophomore LPs? The group is stagnating, and one more cautious release is just another beating for their dead, one-trick pony. But if they turn from a fuzzy garage-rock trio into a synth-pop outfit over the course of six months? They’ve lost sight of their audience and sold out to the whims of fashion.
We’re a hard bunch to please, which is probably why it’s so unbelievably exciting when someone finally gets it just right. It gives us something to point to and declare, “Look! That’s what we were talking about!” in the vain hopes that every other band in existence will heed our advice. I’m happy to say that another eternity, the second album from Canadian dark electronic duo Purity Ring, fits that bill pretty well.
An important aspect of their success is the fact that they’ve managed to explore new territory without entirely abandoning the sound that worked for them in the past. The album opens on “heartsigh,” a track that’s probably as good a thesis statement as they have to offer – it’s familiar, with Megan James’ steady, lilting vocals over Corin Roddick’s signature melancholic synths, but the chorus hints at some of the hip-hop and dance-pop influences that gain prominence later on. And along with “bodyache,” it represents one of only two songs beholden to the duo’s habit of smushing two words together to make a title. Both come at the beginning, giving the impression that we’re being weaned off of their old affectations (though a sudden aversion to capitalizing anything seems to have taken its place).
Now, none of this is to say that Purity Ring is trying to shy away from experimentation. While the three singles they released ahead of the album – “push pull,” “bodyache,” and “begin again” – seem to have been chosen so as not to alienate their existing audience, a few of the deeper cuts go pretty far out on their respective limbs. “repetition” feels like a wistful pop-R&B track, “stranger than earth” has elements that would sound at home in a German disco, and “dust hymn” could easily work as a hip-hop beat. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give a special mention to “flood on the floor,” which (and you’ll have to take my word for it, since there’s no good way for us to stream it to you yet) genuinely leaves me gaping in awe even after dozens of listens. It’s an utterly explosive track that’s bound to be a big part of this album’s legacy.
My only real complaint, and it’s a minor one, is that “stillness in woe” is a pretty weak closer for what’s otherwise a phenomenal album. It’s not a bad song, but it generally lacks the punch that ties the rest of the LP together. I certainly understand the desire to give things a bit of a denouement, but to me it felt like a whimper where a bang would have been more appropriate. I remember feeling the same way about “Shuck,” the final track on their debut, Shrines, so maybe it’s just the band’s Achilles’ heel.
I’m not sure that any one album in particular can do much to change the fickleness with which critics discuss a group’s development over time. It is, as always, a matter of opinion, and most of us have a tendency to indulge in contrarianism out of habit. But if anyone ever asks me in the future to provide an example of evolution at the right pace and in the right direction, I’ll hand them a copy of another eternity without hesitation.