For big fans of early Purity Ring, WOMB is an exciting title for a new album to have. Back on their debut Shrines, the duo mastered the art of gore as intimacy, perfecting the marriage between carefully crafted electronics and graphic depictions of bodily contortion. In the ultimate dramatization of the body as a temple, ‘Fineshrines’ showed that cutting open your sternum to encase someone in your ribs isn’t disgusting at all. It’s romantic, and a show of absolute trust.
After largely taking a break from these images on Another Eternity, Megan James brings them back in full force on the thickly veiled WOMB opener, ‘Rubyinsides’. This time, there’s an overtly political layer of anger on top of everything. When she offers to “flood the halls with ruby insides,” she does so in solidarity with society’s most vulnerable – those whose well-being is threatened by the greed of the richest people in the world. “This is a matter of wealth,” she says explicitly in the first verse. “Arrows of emeralds/Lead in our minds unfold.”
At the end of the day, though, WOMB leans much more toward the personal than the political. ‘Sinew’ is a pleasant song about two people who live far away from each other but feel deeply connected, as if they are physically bound together. ‘Peacefall’ is a guilt-ridden attempt to reconcile a missed connection with a friend, daring to go a little bit darker and showing the more subordinate role of Corin Roddick’s production on this album.
On ‘I Like the Devil’, James reminds us that the word WOMB can also conjure religious imagery. She isn’t saying she likes the devil, by the way – she’s just making a bold comparison: “I, like the devil, can fly.” She’s not afraid of God or the devil, because she knows that she has her own strength. Though it isn’t musically impressive, the lyrics are a simultaneously heartfelt and clever display of womanly power.
Visions of the afterlife make appearances on ‘Femia’ and ‘Vehemence’ as well. The latter focuses on prayer and an encounter with an angel, while making sure to leave just enough room for a verse about blood and terror. Though James has said that there is some latent sarcasm built into this song, it’s just as functional when interpreted as a genuine epiphany.
Every song on this album is based on a compelling melody or a great lyrical idea. The Achilles’ heel comes in connecting the dots. There are fragments of themes and sonic unity, but they all hint toward some greater statement that never quite comes to fruition. Sometimes the warmth of the production is comforting (as in the brilliantly organ-infused, Kid A-esque ‘Almanac’), but at other times its relative flatness is underwhelming. WOMB sacrifices the forest in favor of the trees, and even then, some of the trees are much prettier than others.
Strangely enough, the song that comes closest to binding the disparate parts is the closing track ‘Stardew’, which is maybe the biggest outlier musically. By far WOMB’s catchiest, most complete song, it welds together the profane and the cosmic just in time for the end of the album. It approaches the dance floor more successfully than Purity Ring has ever done, but there’s a shadow that lies beneath the bright synthesizers. Full of both light and darkness, ‘Stardew’ finally embraces the irreconcilable contradictions that have always brought Purity Ring’s music to life.
WOMB is out now. Buy and stream it here.