Still Corners, a band defined over the last decade by Tessa Murray’s ethereal vocals and dream-pop stylings, synth-gaze and desert noir, have said that their fifth album is meant to evoke “something eternal in the landscape and in our psyche”. Yet it’s not quite an exciting open-road adventure – in fact, it often sounds as though they’re firmly in cruise control.
The London-formed, New York state-based duo (comprising British singer Murray and American songwriter and producer Greg Hughes) have written some brilliant tunes over the years, from the dark disco of ‘Lost Boys’ (from 2016’s ‘Dead Blue’) to the ambient country of ‘In The Middle Of The Night’ (2018’s ‘Slow Air) and ‘80s-style synth-pop of ‘Berlin Lovers’ (2013’s ‘Strange Pleasures’). ‘The Last Exit’ doesn’t sparkle with that same magic, though ‘White Sands’ is a real album highlight, Murray relaying a tale of a phantom who haunts travellers as they cross dunes and highways. “I’ve roamed across these badlands”, she sings, elongating her vowels to mimic Hughes’ slide guitar to spook the listener. It’s fun and works well to paint the intended imagery.
The rest of the album is a little less distinct. It would surely be a challenge, say, for Hughes and Murray to incorporate ‘Mystery Road’ and ‘Static’ into a live show without them blurring into one another. The four-chord melodies, shuffling rhythms and languid, country mottled notions plugging ideas of road trip escapism and metaphorically weathering storms: it’s all there.
At least on ‘Static’ we hear Murray attend to broader political ideas. “The world has gone blue / Nothing we can do”, she notes, reflecting a lyric in the moody ‘Crying’: “I’ve been counting to 10 / While the world falls down”. With its dusty synths, whistles and sparse drum machine beats, there’s a mournfulness to ‘Crying’, which was written after the pandemic struck. Before they penned the track, the duo had thought they’d finished the album, but were then compelled to reflect on the crisis’ resultant monotony and absence of intimacy: “I’ve been watching a film… I’ve been trying / To forget you”.
With its open-road American imagery (from ‘White Sands’: “On a lonely highway…”), typically noirish production and a familiarly country-infused sound, you couldn’t exactly accuse ‘The Last Exit’ of blazing a new trail, and perhaps less so of evoking “something eternal”. For the most part, the record finds the band pootling along the middle of the road, with occasional interesting detours.
Release date: January 22
Record label: Wrecking Light Records