Still Corners / The Last Exit / (Wrecking Light Records)
4 out of 5 stars
Some artists release albums to be listened to. Others to be absorbed. And several create music to bask in. Still Corners covers all those and more.
The American/UK duo of Tessa Murray and Greg Hughes has been recording together for about a decade, tweaking their wispy, pensive sound without losing its inherent atmosphere. The combination of Cowboy Junkies’ and Mazzy Star’s groove (Murray also shares Star singer Hope Landoval’s phrasing and angelic voice) with dreamy, reverb laden songs that Chris Isaak took to the bank, creates an intoxicating mix. It’s one the band has artfully crafted and gradually refined over the years.
Now on their fifth effort, the description of “shimmering desert noir” in this disc’s promotional literature, nails the approach. Recorded partially during the pandemic, The Last Exit’s sense of remoteness, loneliness and solitude is even more pronounced, as are the detailed instrumental and production touches that Hughes (as producer/mixer/multi-instrumentalist) applies. They make this stripped down yet sumptuous music reverberate with a sweet yet somewhat aloof feel that forms a slightly heightened pop structure.
It’s evident in the tinkling piano and ghostly lap steel on the opening title track where subtle overdubs enhance the already plush vibe. The lonesome whistling in “Crying” impeccably captures the isolation expressed in the lyrics of “I’ve been watching a film/that never ends.” Still Corners grabs a page from the Dire Straits handbook for the “Sultans of Swing” quality of “It’s Voodoo” as Murray sings/laments “I hear an echo on the wind/Just a bad dream that will not end.”
Song titles “Mystery Road,” “Shifting Dunes” and “A Kiss before Dying” reflect the essence of Still Corners’ mindset without hearing them. The spookiness to tracks such as “Bad Town” captures a Ry Cooder soundtrack ambiance in Hughes’ finger picking against an eerie, slowly throbbing rhythm. The trick is to maintain this windswept, atmospheric touch without repeating yourself, something the twosome accomplish through pensive, intoxicating melodies and a balanced tone. It helps that some of the electronics which hampered previous recordings have been replaced with more organic drum programming, better defining the duo’s style.
At just over 43 minutes, the album never gets repetitious even when it tills similar ground. Rather, Still Corners stitches a seamless amalgamation of lyrics, vocals, production and song composition, all of which makes The Last Exit an early contender for one of 2021’s finest, and most enduring releases—one to listen to, absorb and bask in.