Continuing in their same signature aesthetic, this iteration is closer to its ideal than ever before
Still Corners are a dream-pop duo alchemizing the understatement of the open-road into sound. The duo consists of Tessa Murray and Greg Hughes, their legendary union happened one fateful day at a London train stop. Soon after their meeting, they released a few singles that were eyed by Sub Pop who then published their first two albums, and then they created their own label through which they’ve been self-publishing all subsequent albums. The Last Exit is their latest. It draws from the self-proclaimed “shimmering desert noir sound the band has become known for” from their previous albums, fashioning a spirituality assigned to the enigma and grandeur of the never-ending white line of the pavement.
When a mind is left alone without stimulation, sensory-deprived, it invariably compensates, filling in the barren with the vivacity of the imagination. That’s what people hear across the whole album. It telegraphs the freedom and serenity endemic to the vast space while also effusing it with vivid and lush instrumentals as its own mirage. The titular first track is doused in a surfeit of reverb washing over Murray’s breathiness as “she drives through the darkness/ to disappear through the last exit…drifting off to nowhere.” The album begins at an exit from the known, or conversely, an entrance into the unforeseeable. With each song, Murray wanders deeper and deeper into the unknown, beyond the initial threshold.
Detached now from the world behind her, “Crying” follows with distant whistling and fuzzy, detuned synth, while her distinctive sibilance in whispered words reverberate out in a hypnotically rudimentary structure. Into “White Sands,” the incessant strum of an acoustic guitar desists for a syncopated synth line intro. It then comes back jogging, slightly faster than the last song, and coaches the percussion to match its pace for the chorus to cloud it all, exuding a disintegrative effect.
The nonstop acoustic guitar strumming is found on almost every track and glues all the songs. Usually it’s backgrounded and acts a supplement to the other instruments as a drone. This is the album’s sine qua non and the source of its hypnotic property. It seldom stops only for a chorus or a bridge as the lead guitar counterbalances and accentuates it in an overindulgence of effects and reverb. On “A Kiss Before Dying” the lead chugs out psychedelic licks in baritone and on “Static” it produces a widening sensation as if it’s ballooning outward or, alternatively, only sounds off a single chord that’s exploited to its fullest, multidimensionally unfolding as it resounds in a deluge of yet more effects.
It’d be a sin not to consider Murray’s, and sometimes Hughes’, vocals contributing to the overall dreaminess mastered on the record. They make use of flanging the vocal channel, so it ends up sounding wraithlike, metallic and gurgling. This can be found on “Bad Town” while Hughes’ vocals are subdued and slightly offset to his female companion’s which creates a strangely dissociative effect while rubbery synth notes bloom and bounce against muffled drum booms.
The Last Exit continually reimpregnates the empty expanse of the forgotten highway that pre-exists the first song. Long and open solitary roads are typically associated with loneliness, silence and lassitude. Instead of succumbing to its blunt spell, Still Corners turns lemons into sensuously saturated dreampop while making it impossible not to see the brimming potential in the seemingly uninspiring.