It’s one thing for a contemporary indie band to reference outsider art—think of the Vivian Girls’ Henry Darger nod—but it’s another matter entirely to make music that could actually, in some way, pass for it. Immerse yourself in the world of Puro Instinct, a veritable survey course on the blank spaces in pop history. Rather than write hits, these DIY artists construct deeply surreal refractions of the mainstream.
Back in 2008, an early-20-something Piper Kaplan was heartsick from a recent break up and obsessing over the pop surrealist R. Stevie Moore. Determined to pick up a band, she began collaborating with her then-13-year-old sister Skylar. Piper, who had been hanging out at Cali DIY mecca “the Smell” since her teens, quickly managed to align the fledgling band with LA’s indie elite. The duo has since expanded into a more fleshed-out form, counting former Mika Miko member Jessie Clavin as a member of their live lineup and collaborating with the likes of Ariel Pink, whose alternate-dimension retro aesthetic gels perfectly with their own.
2010’s Puro Instinct EP, issued under the group’s former name, Pearl Harbor, features a cover of a song by Leland, the 70’s era San Franciscan songwriter known for sporting capes and issuing beautifully warped psych rock on private-press LPs. Surprisingly, the sisters’ original compositions register as being even more strikingly eccentric: exquisitely chilled-out, Fleetwood Mac-style pop infused with an almost overwhelming sense of gloom. “Dreams rippin’ at the seams / Morale is very low / Backdrop’s meltin’ in the sun / Ash rains down on everyone,” drones Piper hauntingly on “California Shakedown”, as Skylar’s hazy guitarwork instills a perfect sense of malaise.
We filmed Puro Instinct at the Music Hall of Williamsburg for Noisey’s New York launch party. They played a collection of songs from their debut LP, Headbangers in Ecstasy, which features fake-radio-DJ interludes from R. Stevie Moore himself. There’s something inherently Angeleno about the Kaplans’ bizarre, mesmerizing vision, but we have a feeling that those offbeat vibes will be just as hypnotizing on the East Coast and beyond.