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Puro Instinct’s sweltering pop already begins to stagnate

Puro Instinct (Photo: Mark Squires)
Puro Instinct (Photo: Mark Squires)

Puro Instinct

Album: Autodrama
Label: Manifesto

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When Puro Instinct bubbled up with its curiously addictive debut Headbangers In Ecstasy in 2011, it salvaged a throwback sound that the mass movement of ’80s worship had yet to rediscover: thick, tropic-steamy dream pop, coasting along trance-like guitar lines and a shimmering drum machine, with cool, breezy atmospherics taking the edge off. It was a style that didn’t necessarily generate hits in its time, but that thirty- and fortysomethings might recall from being a kid wandering a department store or watching a late-night TV drama. Piper and Skylar Kaplan had nailed that distinct bygone vibe (that, at ages 22 and 15, the sisters never knew)—and made it catchy to boot.

In the five years since, however, their sonic treasure has been picked apart and blended into the blob of never-ending new-wave nostalgia, leaving little for follow-up Autodrama to expand upon. There are certainly conspicuous adjustments here: A greater presence of boundless, stardust synths and other luminous adornments capture the astral sensations of ’70s dance pop (particularly on “Six Of Swords” and the slick, spacey “Tell Me”), and Skylar’s distorted, unsteady guitar rhythms seem to take a few cues from Mac DeMarco. The approach to hazy cuts such as “Peccavi” also explore a more pensive and subdued direction.

But this is all mere tinkering when the format already feels ready for re-engineering. That may seem unfair, given that this is only the duo’s second stab at it—but that’s the danger of a half-decade recording gap. (Then again, it’s possible it was only a one-album sound to begin with.) While the now-self-assumed production remains complex and meticulously nuanced, it also doesn’t help that the melodies just don’t stick to the ears as much. Autodrama is by no means a failure, and warm, lush tones still captivate in parts; given Puro Instinct’s proven talents, hopefully those aren’t just the embers of a flash in the pan.