Puro Instinct - Headbangers In Ecstasy

California sisters Skylar and Piper Kaplan lounge in silk and chiffon on the cover of their unexpectedly smart debut, a white rabbit placed artfully between them. Headbangers In Ecstasy’s artwork is from another age entirely, referencing a wholly 70s, airbrushed vibe, all California dreamin’ and channeling a quietly decadent haze. It's Fleetwood Mac meets Taschen. It offers a sleepy welcome: Come in…if you like. It's up to you. We’re just too busy being lazy like, well, any morning, really. I say: Do as they suggest.

So, despite low expectations (they played down the road a couple of months ago but a brief foray into YouTube kicked curiosity in the balls – doh), this is a debut whose minor frustrations pale beside a fist full of diamonds. Puro Instinct present something of a conundrum. They’ve reversed the pitfall often missed by so many emerging young bands who nail the production and the approach but pay little heed to those pesky songs. With an oddly anaemic sound – the bass is warm but the drums are at the back and the guitar is curiously heavy on chorus, low on distortion – it takes work to unpick the tunes. Melodies are eerily subtle and take a while to come through, not helped by Piper’s oddly distant vocal styling. Is she a semi-tone flat on occasion, or is she styling herself so? Either way, when the sisters do nail the harmonies, it all seems to gel and the sum parts dazzle. Note the inscrutable nature of the lyrics. If you thought REM’s Murmur was a bit difficult to get a handle on, it's The Beatles' 1 compared to some of Headbangers In Ecstasy's more impenetrable moments. It’s a credit to the songs that they withstand these obstacles.

On the likes of ‘Luv Goon’ and ‘Everybody’s Sick’, an urbane, summery groove cuts through the minimal arrangements. Minor chords and unexpected progressions give the album a nervy, schizophrenic tone. Praise for Skylar’s guitar: she plays with a clean, fluid quality that recalls the skipping arpeggios of Johnny Marr and the trebly attack of early Robert Smith. Uncommon signposts abound: the brooding riff of ‘California Shakedown’ is almost a dead ringer for The Long Blondes’s ‘A Knife For The Girls’. The fact that she’s only 16 shouldn’t distract from the fact that she’s technically advanced, but so young and already deploying her chops with real taste and judgement?

So, yes, beyond the actual half-heard key phrase and the song titles themselves, Headbangers In Ecstasy is no cheery sing-along. Its echoing, weirdly spartan sound isn’t going to get anybody’s party started but beneath its psychedelic dreamscape is an M.O. that startles and a set of songs that peddle laissez-faire and absolute conviction in a beguiling and strange brew. At its head-spinning best, Puro Instinct dabble expertly enough with indie pop conventions to join 2011's front-runners without breaking sweat. A quiet triumph.

Overall

8

out of 10

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