At their worst, the duo of Tessa Murray and Greg Hughes, known to many as Still Corners, sound like a less enthused cover band of The Sundays. When at their best (2013 album Strange Pleasures), they resemble a mix of The Blue Nile and Mazzy Star. That being said, their latest excursion through intoxicating realms of sound ala dream-pop titled Slow Air, pins them smack-dab in the middle.
Still Corners’ last album, 2016’s Dead Blue, was a one-note, trivial piece of ethereality— it existed simply for aesthetic purposes and signaled a step back for the band given the ever-changing nature of its predecessor, Strange Pleasures. Nevertheless, the duo came into their own regarding the genre’s key elements of whirring synthesizers and dissonant guitars for a technically solid display. As a natural progression, Slow Air witnesses Still Corners refining their craft while delving deeper into the genre’s roots with homages to acts like Stereolab, Lush and of course, everybody’s favorite comparison when discussing dream pop — the Cocteau Twins.
With the flick of a finger, the dissolution of all consciousness dawns on listeners with the opening track titled “In The Middle Of The Night”—a lethargic and sulky composition that flows outward like a cracked whip unleashed in slow motion. Here, ghostly guitar, synth, and Murray’s nostalgic vocals mesh together like sand receding into high tide waters. The track to follow, “The Message,” blatantly harkens to the noir sensibilities of Julee Cruise, as foreboding bass broods beneath a psychedelic guitar tone, precipitating like a light rain late in the late evening. “Sad Movies” dissipates at the sound of a percolating synth lead and twangy arrangements—it’s sonically modest but allows enough room for Murray’s hushed vocals to take center stage this time around. Unfortunately, her voice feels wasted as she croons a resounding yet trite chorus, “Sad movies make me cry / I don’t know why / they remind me of you.”
“Welcome to Slow Air” is a word-building number that offers up tropical paradise and a listen that’s elusive, nebulous but overly indulgent. You can close your eyes and easily imagine yourself strolling through a rainforest late at night as the soundscape swathes listeners in shadowy samples of birds cooing and wind sifting through leaves. It’s a track could easily fit right into any St. Lucia album or even as a b-side on M83’s Hurry Up We're Dreaming, but it feels incredibly out of place here.
The prior track’s languid escapism gives way to a jarring jolt of energy Americana in “Black Lagoon,” which so happens to be the album’s standout cut. Announcing itself with prominence, the lead single is a stark change of pace from this ongoing daydream—amidst the record’s nocturnal melancholy, “Black Lagoon” deceives with sunshine and gaiety. Nevertheless, the lead single keeps listeners on their toes with dynamic instrumentation as guitar plunges through with up-tempo energy in spite of its modest, grumbling guitar tone.
While the atmosphere of Slow Air enthralls with captivating layers of sedated synth and breathtaking reverb, the stunning production quality can’t save Still Corners from sinking into increasingly crowded waters of the dream-pop scene. With the likes of Beach House and Wild Nothing having already swiped the rug from beneath the feet of dreamers alike by releasing absolutely stunning projects themselves, Still Corners ultimately struggle to distinguish themselves with their lukewarm embrace of escapism. Once you compare the overall sound of Slow Air with the aforementioned acts, Still Corner’s latest lacks intimacy and feels forgettable, especially when you start bringing the album’s cursory level of lyrical complexity into the equation.
THE 405 RATING: 6.5/10