Let it be known that Puro Instinct started their career at a young age, working with Big Boys of Lo-Fi like Ariel Pink and R. Stevie Moore, and have now returned with a new, second full-length album that sheds some of the baggage associated with their beginnings. That is a basic, generalizing arc. It will do. This is a pretty basic review. I’m a basic writer.
Autodrama attempts to transcend the now passé auroral fuzziness of their debut, Headbangers in Ecstasy, with huge, slow, yes, dramatic choruses. And the results are mixed.
The things so enamoring about Headbangers are often not at all in evidence here. Time has passed, sure, but the sororal duo has morphed from Pinkian (Jacuzzian?) protégés (whose songs were just as good as any Haunted Graffiti project) into something more like a true 2016 pop act. While both albums easily fall into that bottomless, useless “pop” categorization, they are almost as different as one could have expected. Where Headbangers felt somehow curated, like a series of pieces locking together, thanks in part to its creepy late-night radio interludes, Autodrama is, at heart, a rather straightforward collection of pop songs.
There is a theme, namely Hollywood (and living there, growing up there, working there), traceable through the 10-song sequence, but the album feels like a scattershot attempt at giving a larger audience as many pop tunes as is feasible. This approach can work and has worked in the past, but much more common is the result we find here: a hit-or-miss affair.
Like any pop album deserving of the title, some of the songs here are those cool, crystalline, summer-defining things that keep us going through the heat and sun: “Six of Swords” is the tarot-hit that the 2016 internet’s pop-occultism needed, and “Tell Me” wouldn’t feel out of place on the radio between Rihanna and Carly Rae Jepsen.
Autodrama’s later songs, like “Scorpio Rising” and “Babylon,” however, tend to centralize and repeat (usually one too many times) huge, swaying choruses that, despite the deft, clever lyrical work (Hollywood as Babylon is a classic, immortal move done well here), lull one into an anticipatory trance waiting for the next, catchier, more mobile song. Unfortunately, that song never comes, and the album’s second half closes without having offered anything like the triple threat of “Peccavi,” “Tell Me,” and “Six of Swords.”
The huge air of drama and gravity suggest that this might just be a transitional moment for Skylar and Piper Kaplan: Autodrama feels just several adjustments away from fullness. There are no doubts that Puro Instinct have become a serious pop project, growing quite beyond the roots one might have thought the sisters would permanently call home. So it’s frustrating, then, to be already looking forward to their next move.