Looking at its current roster, the 4AD label is starting to resemble a cross between one of those strange, inbred cults that you hear about living in some back-woods mountain holler and a dysfunctional Sicilian mob clan. It would certainly make a good episode of Justified, or even The Sopranos: with young foot-soldiers SpaceGhostPurrp and Twin Shadow coming up under wild-card capo Ariel Pink, prodigal son Bon Iver tries in vain to legitimise the family business whilst bosses the National – whose wives St. Vincent and TuneYards diligently raise their stroppy, smart-mouthed kids Atlas Sound and Grimes – run operations with an iron fist on behalf of elderly Godfather Scott Walker. In this scenario, Purity Ring would be the youngest members of the brood, the cute grandchildren whose apparent innocence masks an acute awareness and prodigious talent; in reality, Megan James and Corin Roddick are right at the forefront of Montreal’s DIY electronic pop scene, and their deliciously dark full-length debut Shrines, out next week, is one of 2012’s most essential listens. Mining the same territory as one-time “next big things” Salem, the duo marry the crisp, whirring beats and cavernous bass of Southern hip hop and dubstep to day-glo synth riffs and “cloud-rap”‘s gauzey atmospherics, but whilst the imagery evoked by James’ lyrics – an unnerving mixture of earthy romanticism, gothic folk-tale and twisted body horror, conveyed in a delicate, sugar-sweet croon – is pure “witch-house”, Roddick’s dense, dramatic production drags the album out of any such niche: in its own subtle way Shrines is a huge record, and one that manages to capture and rearrange into thrilling new shapes all that is good and exciting about contemporary pop. Chanelling Diplo and Soulja Boy as readily as Clams Casino and more obvious touchstones like the Cocteau Twins, many of the songs here would fit nicely into the current daytime mainstream radio playlist, but whilst “Ungirthed“‘s “Ears ringing, teeth clicking” chorus provides a genuinely irresistable earworm hook, it’s the darker lyrics that really dig their claws in. James is a curious character, juggling girlish innocence and frightening intensity and lines like “Crack open my sternum and pull/ My little ribs around you” (from “Fineshrine”, below) etch themselves onto your consciousness like a stalker’s note written in blood on your mirror; it’s like a psychiatrist’s analysis of a complex multiple personality disorder summed up in fifteen syllables. This is a new breed of pop song, one that is defiantly du jour but already sounds as timeless as it does alien. They maybe the babies of the 4AD bunch, but in what is turning out to be a banner year for full-length offerings from the label, here Purity Ring prove they can stand shoulder to shoulder with their elders. Welcome to the family.
Shrines is out July 23 on 4AD, and can be previewed in full over at NPR