Purity Ring WOMB

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The electro-pop duo’s first album in five years muses on bodies, blood, and a girl’s coming of age; it benefits from the group’s newfound musical maturity and more exacting editorial eye.

Purity Ring have always been obsessed with bodily viscera, with blood and guts and bone. Vocalist Megan James sings of love as a kind of vivisection, pleading with her partner to cut her open, to make a protective cradle of her skeleton. WOMB does not break this pattern, but it narrows the band’s focus to the eponymous organ. The blood they’ve always sung about is now a more specific kind: On “i like the devil,” it stains bedsheets; on “femia,” the narrator wakes “in a sea of dark liquid.”

There is a sexual awakening afoot here, but equally, a reckoning with existence in a brand new sort of body. Over the course of these 10 glittering pieces of synth pop, Purity Ring experiment with a conceptual coming-of-age narrative. In each song we meet a young woman, feel her nascent passion and holy shame, and cast our eyes to the horizon as clouds gather, spitting lightning. We fear for her. We wonder if she’ll quell the storm or find herself swept away in it.

By pure coincidence, I’d recently picked up Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex as a quarantine project. It can be a jarring read; for every piece of timeless insight, there is some startling mid-century slap in the face, something like, “Some women become homosexual after the trauma of abortion.”

But listening to WOMB, I could think of nothing but de Beauvoir’s portrait of a young girl on the cusp of her first period, who feels “danger in her insides” and struggles to imagine herself the equal of the coming crisis. “She is surprised,” writes Beauvoir, “to be both that heroine and that flesh.” WOMB’s protagonists are bleeding, yes, but they are growing powerful, too: wreaking carnage, learning to fly.

Taken together, WOMB’s songs begin to suggest the outline of a singular character: a girl coming to see herself as heroic, capable of rising to the challenges of her new body and her new role in the world, and subsumed by the weight of what that entails. Violence is abundant in these lyrics: cannibalism, death by drowning, blood coursing Shining-like through hallways.

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