Desert-noir / dream-pop duo Still Corners stunningly and poignantly explore humanity’s plight on their dazzling new album, ‘The Last Exit’.
Ten years ago, Still Corners‘ debut album, Creatures of an Hour, was released, and it introduced the world to the duo’s cinematic brand of dream-pop. It was ethereal and enchanting, showcasing Greg Hughes’ widescreen production talents and Tessa Murray’s heavenly vocals. The following two albums, Strange Pleasures and Deep Blue, further accentuated the duo’s celestial approach. With Slow Air, however, Murray and Hughes brought the fantasy back to Earth, creating songs that replicated a lonely expedition into the vastness of the unknown. The album was not solely an adventure, but it was a statement about the human spirit and its resilience.
The duo’s exploration, however, did not end with their fourth album. On the contrary, their fifth and latest album, The Last Exit, delves deeper into examining our collective and individual psychosis, and it is achieved with startling and dazzling effect.
Fittingly, the record commences with the title track, which is the final part of their Road Trilogy. It began back in 2013 with the psych-drenched “The Trip” from Strange Pleasures and continued on the dreamy “The Message” from Slow Air. Whereas the first two parts had a floating feeling as the heroine searched multiple dimensions for “the one”, Still Corners enter the arid, lonely landscapes of America’s southwest deserts. In this world, a trembling electric guitar, a windswept steel guitar, and soft touches of a piano are the pages on which Murray writers her spellbinding story. After searching everywhere, she is coming to the end of her days, where each step leads her closer to her own finality. Maybe the one is waiting for her on the other side.
“I’m drifting off to nowhere
The past an echo on my mind
In the middle of the desert
The devil trailing just behind
And it’s a shame that I had to disappear
The last exit”
The themes of vulnerability, mortality, and self-entrapment linger throughout the album. The slow-burning instrumental, “Till We Meet Again”, which is one part Khruangbin and another part White Album The Beatles, and the Chris Isaak-like, desert drama, “Static”, are reflections of isolation during a pandemic. “The world has gone blue and there’s nothing we can do / Just static on the line”, Murray calmly sings while Hughes’ guitar darkly strums in the background.
The magical “Crying”, meanwhile, goes further in articulating the withdrawal and anxiety that heavily weighs on a person when they lose someone. As Hughes’ engrossing arrangements fill the air with both breathtaking splendour and a nervous uneasiness, Murray’s light vocal tinges with desperation, pain, and loneliness.
“I’ve been clapping my hands
So I could shut down
I’ve been counting to ten
While the world falls down
I’ve been crying
I’ve been trying
To forget you”
Other factors other than a highly infectious virus, however, play with our minds. On the toe-tapping, wind-swept “It’s Voodoo”, which features a fabulous bass line, Murray describes how obsession can cause one to “be troubled by a dream I had of you”. Objects and landmarks, too, can trigger memories and emotions, such as an “Old Arcade”, which is sonically graceful like Mazzy Starr and lyrically poignant a la Lana Del Rey.
A fourth theme, however, emerges through Still Corner’s dazzling, dream-pop dust storm and that is perseverance. The trio of songs that form the album’s core highlight humanity’s never-say-die mentality. The smokey cool, “A Kiss Before Dying”, sees Murray “a million miles from the place I was before”, which is where the lives of two people, including her own, came to an end. The dark, twangy, folk-noir ballad, “Bad Town”, finds our heroine in a more dire situation. This place is where people “pay to get in and pray to get out”.
Our heroine, though, will not be stopped, and soon she finds herself on “Mystery Road”. One of the album’s many highlights, a breathtaking urgency rings across the track. The adrenaline-fueled melody sets the scene for Murray’s escape to nowhere. This road is playing tricks on her mind, as she sees things not there and recalls memories that never happened. It’s a brilliant piece of Twilight Zone-esque storytelling.
All four subject matters do come together on one track, and that is “White Sands”. The song is made for chasing sunsets on vast, wide open roads. As Hughes’ crisp, crystalline guitar rings in the background alongside a stuttering, urgent beat, Murray’s heroine is revealed. She is a fearless drifter, who is one with the desert. She is “from the white sands / For two hundred years / I’ve roamed across these badlands”. But is she an actual person or a phantom who paces these arid landscapes? Whoever she may be, Still Corners have sensationally captured her freedom and her imprisonment. They have captured our current state of mind in these unusual days. In the process, they have us yearning for the days we can once again aimlessly ride into the distance. Where we can freely wander and drive until we have reached the last exit.
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