From the center of every human female emanates a white blue energy, in waves of quiet fire it orbits her throughout her lifetime. It seeps in and out of hips and legs, it appears gossamer and fine at the fringes of smiles and frowns, and every once in an achingly long time, it shows up in music, caught like a spider in amber. Purity Ring’s debut release Shrines gives us the séance-stood-still moment of this energy, feminine energy, caught entirely on tape.
I relate to this album so deeply and on such a personal level – I relate to this record as a woman, a defining name that I cling to more closely than I do to the title of “human.” Human, what is human? There is much that is human that is not me, but woman, I know what that is and it is me. I love the messy, curvy, liquid body I possess, I love grooming it into submission. I love the spiritual witchiness innate in girls, collected in trinkets and spoken into being through token symbols from a very young age.
I love that my body was once considered to be something so dangerous that it needed to be roped in with rings and promises, however falsely made, to symbolize to the all-seeing masculine overwatchers that I wouldn’t experiment with the as-yet-unrealized powers I contained. Moreso, I love that Megan James and Corin Roddick have created a reflection of woman in all her glory and gory details that isn’t trapped within the poisonously formaldehyde-filled steel box of music’s current climate.
Take me far from the scarecrow straw-filled mannequin of Sky Ferreria, so pretty in her inability to scare away even the vultures, much less the full grown coyote-predators of sexualized culture. Remove from my sight the worn out retro-sexed form of Lana Del Rey, pretending so hard she lives next door — but really always over at the neighbors to do coke with the dealer who thinks she’s a babe. I don’t judge these women for their beauty, it exists in bounds, I judge them for the choices they made to exploit it, to discard their womanhood and assume in turn pure sexuality. I judge them for abandoning the spiritual fire and limitless ancient wisdoms of femininity, for leaving all their sisterhood tradition behind to please culture – to please men.
Give me instead the visceral weeping skin, the trembling thighs of “Lofticries” and the mysticism of Megan James. Containing both the innocence of thinly-veiled-bride and sensuous-witch full of black magic, James brings her liquid, messy body into the narrative, curving her sweating lips and sparkling sides into the conversation with ease. In the real world of a woman, worries of wrinkles and forgotten dreams wheelbarrow themselves to the surface in hidden night, as on early single “Obedear.” Reality offers us no four-minute-pleasure-clip pop song, but all too often contains an ever re-opening wound inflicted by meaningless lovers and unsteady beloveds. Amidst the spiritual loping of “Fineshrine” the experience is surgical, a sterile removal of the heart, sharp knives give way to our fractured body, taken as accoutrement, and the unspoken assurance it will happen again. Woman as her own self-constructed shrine, woman as a self-sacrifice for the adored.
Here, in Purity Ring’s music, lie the everyday instances of woman. The outer-circle unspoken madness of woman – the world through the eyes of the hut-on-the-edge-of-the-village witch. The scorn and shun received by the unclean woman, the one who embraced sensuality until sudden growth of another human alerted the outside world to her transgressions. “Belispeak” reflects this story with uncanny accuracy, as no lover sits close by the bed-ridden starlet who struggles through hazes of hate, rising waters and the impending spooks – the swift approaching terrors and hope of motherhood sans beloved. Only her grandmother, matriach of much trust, is loyal enough to stand by. Grandmother, the figure of monolithic womanhood, a scion of morality and female behavior from a dated culture that no longer exists. Grandmother, far enough away not to have the often too-painful claws of birth mother, but still blood of blood and family lineage invested, but close enough to help heal wounds and cover up transgressions.
Purity rings were instated, of course, to guard against this condition, the most potent power of procreation enfolded into the physical body of every woman – a feat that opener “Crawlersout” dives right into. Telling lyrics “ the names and the dates / of the daughters that pour out of me” drift either into a miscarriage metaphor or endless birth cycle. But these words contains new meaning if microscoped under the idea that every creation is a daughter – every word, every song, every poem, every drawing. The invocation of their comparison to “grandmother’s vines” again enlists the idea that women’s creations have rapidly changed even over the course of a few decades. Though out-of-wedlock pregnancy doesn’t necessarily equate to Hester Pryne hatred, a woman’s creations often face similar challenges to be accepted as valid art.
Inhabiting these songs – here lives the liminal women, the witches, the shut-ins, the poets and those missing limbs or sick, those dancing before pagan gods and casting spells. Strange, or perhaps, fitting that the band chose a name so cemented in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but perhaps centered even more so in the idea that a woman’s sexuality should be measured. That her virginity should and could be bought and sold, exchanged for land and animals, transferred in ownership from her family, essentially her father, to the next man to oversee and keep her – her husband.
The danger of woman with ink and spell, worshiping at shrines, building them, chanting and dancing before them has always been roped in, kept at bay. But the witch, the ever-murdered magic woman lives on in this album. Portrayed here, in tune and lyric is the innate spiritual fire of femininity most foreign, most kept hidden under rocks and masked with fashion – the brutal bareness of a body designed to attract sexual attention, molded to prepare new life for the world. Woman, who is at once the most powerful and vulnerable creature in the universe. Shrines saves up her moments of conquest and capture and reduces them into a salt lick – a shrine in itself – to the tears and silences of woman’s magic that occur all over the world, that are occurring even now. “Saltkin” contains layers upon layers of pain and abuse, as in lyric “cult” and “cut” blur together, salt is poured on both, worsening pain and likening the pull of the sea-tide to the often inescapable cycle of violence women are trapped in from birth.
How good then, that the invented sorceress words of “Amenamy” and “Obedear” appear as song titles that studied men will copy down and peer over, all while James’ voice will never be pinned down, but instead dances abandoned over green hills adorned with the feathers of birds, and brooding over her endless hordes of daughters. What an unleash of power then, when the record itself dances around the borders of womanhood on “Ungirthed” with its hooded eyelid repeat of “ears ring and teeth click and ears ring” or along the same paths as the fairies, moons and seas on “Cartographist.” This record, a piece of art that brings in the outsiders with lavish passion, speaks with no bated breathe about “starving hip” and sea water from thighs, no demure lip here but gnashing teeth – guts are taken to the outskirt witch hut and imbued with light on album closer “Shuck.”
This album covers all that – it sums it up in little spells of visceral significance. Unafraid to embrace the unhinged mad-woman, instead it speaks of the unspoken – of death, wormholes, breaks in reality. It endlessly interrogates the ever awe-inducing act of creation through which women become god-like — producing and nurturing a new human life from the inside out, and then breaking their own symmetrical sealed relationship to the physical world to give entry to this life. Do you realize this power? Is it any wonder we’ve been guarded closely for centuries and trampled upon?
Where, in our culture do we have a portrait of a woman? I love being a woman. I love our ceaseless yearnings deep beneath the surface. I love our ancient memory. I love the instincts toward nurturing and sensuality passed down through thousands of years of mothers and sisters and daughters. I love the unspeakable instinct for friendship, the unfathomable shoulder to cry on during heartbreak. This album offers that too, it is the reflection of a sobbing girl in the mirror after her heart has been broken, dark circles and tear-flecked skin not excluded. It contains the hurt and fear and hope of a pregnant, stretching belly — the wounds to the skin intact along with the mothering, hovering hope of love. It holds the specifically feminine desire to strip away the remnants of a betraying friend — to burn their letters and cry tears into the ashes and concoct a paste from the remnants that is more powerful than any pinprick voodoo doll.
The emotion in this record is shaman-like, powerful witchery imbued with physical images that don’t contort to the media descriptive recipe of ways women should behave. Somewhere between a woman’s sigh and her wail, kept right next to the loving smile that crooks itself in a grimace when crossed, is where this album lives — listen, wonder and love.