The brain of a seamstress must carry an intricate understanding of human anatomy, a knowledge of the body's limbs and joints, and the ways each part flexes into the next. "I think that's why I've been interested in making clothing in the first place," says Megan James, a 24-year-old Halifax native, seamstress, and also one-half of Canadian futuristic electronic pop duo Purity Ring. James sews clothing for herself and bandmate Corin Roddick, as well as the backdrops for performances.
"I have so much respect for bodies, and it comes out in a lot of different ways," she says. "I love shapes, projecting things onto the body that don't necessarily fit there. A lot of the same thing is how I write. I'm sort of obsessed with the mysteries of our bodies."
That obsession surfaces in the seams of Purity Ring's 2012 debut album for 4AD, Shrines, a record that mixes ambient, metallic hip-hop-inflected dance beats with haunted lyrics about ripped up skin and fractured skulls — all written by James, all culled from her personal journals. On paper, the tracks read out like poetic ruminations that reduce bodies to "nervous pumping blood" and piles of bones; hands and feet and wispy frames. Teeth click, legs grow weak, holes are drilled into eyelids. "Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you," she sings on "Fineshrine." Or on "Lofticries": "Dear brother, collect all the liquids off of the floor. . . . Let it seep through your sockets and ear holes/Into your precious fractured skull."
That dramatic sense of earthly physicality resonates in juxtaposition to Roddick's dubby digital production, the MIDI-triggered lighting synced up with the music at their shows, as well as the way in which Purity Ring were essentially born on the Internet. In writing songs for Shrines, James would email her vocal parts to Roddick, who lives in Montreal. Roddick then dissected and layered them with his production, eventually posting the first track, "Ungirthed," to Tumblr in 2011.
Images of bodies often flow through mass-appeal pop, but rarely in this dark and deranged way. Typical mainstream pop music treats bodies in more stereotypical ways reflective of normative body imagery. "It's so offensive," says James. "I don't even pay attention to that world. I make efforts not to. It's often so disgusting to me. The lyrics are unbearable."
Purity Ring's breakdown of bodies to organs and limbs subverts that, in a way — butchering bodies and molding them into works of art. "It's just the way I naturally make things and think," says James. "I guess this is the way that I am a feminist. It's not something I ever expected people to hear. It's a part of the music that is empowering."
PURITY RING + YOUNG MAGIC:: House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston :: January 30 @ 7 pm :: All Ages :: $15 :: 888.693.BLUE or HOB.com/Boston