I Can Taste Your Vulnerable Parts: Purity Ring’s “another eternity”

4AD; 2015

I loved the first Purity Ring album very much. I loved the first Purity Ring album very much and this is a different beast. Sophomore albums are hard—there’s always the sophomore slump but even perfectly good bands who don’t suffer from that can seem to stagnate, get caught in one of the jerky uncomfortable phases of a growth spurt. another eternity (out 3/3 on 4AD) is not an album where that happens. another eternity is very different from Purity Ring’s debut and it knows it, embraces it. Listening to Shrines felt kind of like listening to maggots crawl into your bone marrow.  another eternity, on the other hand, is invested in unsettling you through terrifying openness, rather than through claustrophobia—it’s filled with glittery synths and syncopated, airy choruses and it doesn’t sound quite so much like it’s trying to crush itself down around your ribcage. Instead, it sometimes feels like the album is invested in peeling back your skin, making you vulnerable. There are moments on another eternity of purposeful ugliness, but its ugliness spews out into the luminous openness of the album itself. another eternity is only ten songs long, most of which barely top out over three minutes long; it feels short, feels concise. It’s beautifully composed that way, cohesive. Half the time it feels like one really long song.

The album opens with “heartsigh”, which has a beginning that sounds like Christmas and is, generally, the sonic equivalent of a beautiful bubbly glass of champagne. It sounds so overwhelmingly happy that you have to search for the strangeness for a moment. It’s there, underneath all that gauze, and it’s important that you have to look for it. “Whisk away your heart-sigh and bury it in mine” says Megan James in her baby-voice and it’s an invitation, a lamentation. Brush away the things that you are scared of. Let her swallow them up. Everything sounds more terrifying in her doll-voice, somehow, earnest and coy all at once.  “heartsigh”, in all its champagne-bubble glory, fizzles away eventually, and it is “bodyache”, the album’s second song, that really launches it.

“bodyache” is the third single off the album, and it is a beautiful breathy thing, another eternity stretching its muscles for the first time. Purity Ring used the adjective “muscular” to describe this album and “bodyache” is the first time that really comes through, the synths throwing their weight around. The heart of the song is a chorus in stuttered gasps: “I-I-I lied now I’m lying awake / I-I-I cried til my body ache”, repeated over and over. The bridge declares “I wanna know: what’s your quietest feeling?” The song is filled with twinkling flourishes and chimes, sounds almost like a strange winter wonderland if taken out of context. It’s also filled with the impossibility of emotion, the stark overwhelming nature of internalized and externalized feeling. Shrines was claustrophobic but this is almost horrifyingly, awe-inspiringly open: “I cried til my body—” And then nothing.

The first time I heard this I flinched. The first time I heard this it was so pretty and yet my instinct was still to back away, to turn around. “What’s your quietest feeling?” asks Megan James and it is as much something that crawls up inside of you and turns the lights on as my favorite line from Shrines: “Get a little closer, let fold / cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you.” “What’s your quietest feeling?” so that it can be cloaked., like all things should, in this strange swirl of pop before it is birthed into the world.

The front half of the album is entirely glittery, luminous pop songs, galactic; the back half is populated by songs that sound, at the very least, much more like Purity Ring’s first album. The instrumentation is less filmy, the structures less open. Despite that, these songs are still essentially an excavation rather than simply a burrowing. They drag you out into the light.

“flood on the floor” is one of my favorite songs from this album, mostly because it is horrifyingly incoherent. The lines leading up to the chorus are specific: “I miss keepin you / I hope you’re sleeping too” but the chorus is not. “I hope you’re—“ and then a crescendo of beat, a wordless reply. “I hope you’re—SCREACH” and then nothing, nothing specific, an infinitely ugly amount of hope. I’LL TAKE YOU OUT AND UP IN LIGHT / I’LL BURY YOU GOOD AND STRAIGHT AND RIGHT says the bridge and I should feel threatened but mostly I feel comforted.  What I am drawn to in this song is what I am drawn to in this album: the strange duality between  what is predatory and what is just knowing, comforting. “I can taste your vulnerable parts” sings Megan James on “sea castle”, which is a song that sounds approximately like its sung by an imaginary band composed purely of broken china-dolls. “I can taste your vulnerable parts” isn’t vicious, doesn’t relish in its knowledge, is strangely tender with you. “I can taste your vulnerable parts” is not not the same as I’ll eat you up, I love you so. “I can taste your vulnerable parts” because she knows you have them, because it is impossible to deny.

The album closes with “stillness in woe”, possibly the most melodramatic title in the world. I didn’t buy this song the first time out, alright, I didn’t. Not even “don’t be afraid if it’s a little bit close”, a repetition of sentiment that I am now enamored by, convinced me. But you make it to the end of the song and you have

I’ll pry the door from its bolts
I’ve been hiding out for days and nothing’s growing
There’s a breath left in there, all I would say
Wait for the storm, take it away, I’m seeing double

The first time I heard this song I moved the track back five seconds and played this verse over and over again, probably a dozen times. I’ve been hiding out for days and nothing’s growing is sometimes all that I can conceive of myself as; I am someone who hides and I am someone who kills every plant she touches, sucks the life right out of it. It’s cold in Chicago right now and the sun refuses to shine and it keeps snowing and today I sat in a tiny deserted building trying not to cry for a long, long while. What’s your quietest feeling? It’s a very quiet feeling, this acknowledgement of rot inside of yourself. I’ll pry the door from its bolts, I’ve been hiding out for days and nothing’s growing. You are allowed to be emotional about things that are trite if they are in pop songs, I think, is the thing.

I am grateful for this the same way I was once grateful for “there’s a cult inside of me”. I am scared of it, just a little bit, but I used to be a scared 15-year-old who wanted to disappear into something—the last thing I wanted was openness. another eternity would have terrified me, the gaping strangeness of it laying you bare, even through all the glitter and gauze. “I can taste your vulnerable parts,” part and parcel of an album that starts with “whisk away your heart-sigh, bury it in mine”. There are no crannies to crawl into here. All of them have been purposefully exhumed, the light shone in.

About Sophia

Sophia was raised (but not born) in small-town Missouri and now she lives in Chicago. She is interested in: lipstick, geographical narratives in Midwestern pop-punk, the close relationship between intimacy and mythical scale in contemporary pop, and cats.

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