Still Corners clue their listeners in that they’re set to take them on an escapade straight away on Strange Pleasures by naming its lead-off track ‘The Trip.’ Combine that with the hallucinogenic, desert-splashed cover art that looks like the surface of a colorful, undiscovered moon, and you have the blueprint for a record whose primary mission is to take you somewhere new.
And yet, this gorgeously diaphanous album plays out more like an ethereal dream sequence rather than any tangible, globe-trotting odyssey, with the exploration coming as more of a heady inward excursion rather than anything corporeal. Greg Hughes and Tessa Murray have crafted an exquisite collection of hushed pop lullabies on their second record, with the London duo giving the UK an elegant creative compliment to Baltimore’s Beach House in the process.
The expansive, hypnotic opening track truly sets the proper tone for the record, with the soaring synths washing stylishly over the Smiths-like electric guitar strain, as Murray’s breathy, wistful vocals sets the controls for the heart of their own distinctive sun. The poppy bliss of ‘Beginning To Blue’ suggests that even though the fire has perhaps gone out of a relationship, some inspiration still can be found in that fractured dissolution. Or it could just be a sly statement that the drugs have started to kick in — either way, there’s artistry to be found within both of those mercurial clouds.
The somber, languid pace of both ‘I Can’t Sleep’ and ‘All I Know’ temporarily derail the strong start to the record, but the massive, summery swing of ‘Fireflies’ launches the album’s strong middle section brilliantly. The track’s dynamic, textured beats prove to be irresistible, while the shimmering synth flourishes actually conjure glowing fireflies themselves, floating along upon the endless potential of a warm night in the country. But it’s the insistent motorik churn of ‘Berlin Lovers’ which really anchors the album, and also provides it with its bold, indelible fuse. The mesmerizing chorus, with its repetitive call of ‘So Young,’ is both a unifying rallying cry for the youth of today, as well as a musical time machine for those who want to remember their carefree adolescence.
‘Future Days’ builds on that inventive momentum, but sounds the most Beach House-y off all the tracks on the record. The delicate, acoustic guitar-laden ‘Going Back To Strange’ slows things down a bit needlessly, with the track perhaps being better served as a restful coda to the album rather than coming towards the start of the record’s second half. But the M83-like disco swing of ‘Beatcity’ rights things in a hurry, as does the moody textures of ‘Midnight Drive,’ with Murray’s haunting vocals floating atop the track, with the buoyant, staccato guitar riffs containing capricious echoes of The XX, as does the doleful ‘We Killed The Moonlight’ with far less success, as the morose penultimate number fails to alight.
Still Corners perhaps ends the journey where it began by offering up the title-track as the closing number, reminding listeners of the odd sights and sounds we’ve encountered along the way, while also suggesting that we all keep our eyes wide open going forward lest we miss visions and experiences that are never to pass our way again. There are sonic elements of a reawakening layered with the track’s evocative arrangement, with the musical equivalent of a sunrise emerging as the end of the album begins to glow. Strange Pleasures can indeed take you anywhere if you let it, with a journey of discovery awaiting you anytime you cue it up.