In ‘The Last Exit’, Still Corners have perfectly captured a magical ethereal desert landscape in the spacious layers of their songs. Crystal sharp guitars, soaked in reverb and mystery, punctuate a bedrock of acoustic instruments and evocative, wild and unnatural sounds. Singer Tess Murray’s crooning, louche vocals smooth the path. There is an inherent a sense of loss and yearning throughout as well as that other-worldly alien presence that seems to saturate the western US deserts. Astonishing considering this is a band based in the UK.
‘The Last Exit’ could be regarded as a concept album with consistent themes of isolation in a natural and wild landscape: love, loss and alienation.
A fitting document bearing the indelible imprint of the year that was 2020.
As the band says:
There’s always something at the end of the road and for us it was this album. Our plans were put on hold – an album set for release, tours, video shoots, travel. We’d been touring nonstop for years, but we were forced to pause everything. We thought the album was finished but with the crisis found new inspiration and started writing again.
If ever an album captured a sense of timelessness and geography, this is it. A vast endless bejewelled sky studded with stars, open dusty plains and roads that split the land in half and provide escape and oblivion.
Opening title track and first single off the album, ‘The Last Exit’ epitomises the aching beauty of the album: shimmering guitars and a haunting tinkling piano refrain that leads us gently out of the song. It is an utterly magnificent track – for me one of the best of 2020 – that is ghostly, mysterious and imbued with a sense of danger:
I’ve never been this far from home
I’ve got you on my mind
I’ve been driving through the darkness
Got no destination in mind
And it’s a shame that I had to disappear
The last exit
Images of a vast desert highway and strange blinking lights above – a Lynchian episode of a murder mystery series all perfectly captured in the literally cinematic video:
This epic beauty sets the tone for the rest of the album without any loss of quality nor any loss of impact.
The hypnotic ‘Crying’ introduces a panoply of sounds and noises – strange distant wailing (a theremin?) and a dirty fuzzy bass underpinning the gently meandering piano notes in a song that is mesmerising and utterly romantic:
The wild and unpredictable nature of desert weather thunders in the opening of ‘White Sands’ with its flanged whispers and cyclical instrumentation building up to a crescendo. The song again imbues a Lynchian tonal shimmer: there is an endless horizon, wide open spaces and mystery:
The repetition creates a dreamy reverie that enthralls and hypnotises like the endless dotted white lines of the road ahead:
On a lonely highway
From where I came
The road ramps high
Like a runway for an aeroplane
‘Til We Meet Again’ is an instrumental that slowly burns like a fuse with distant sounds before launching into an almost whirlwind fairground lilt at full tilt: an explosion of emotion. The other instrumental, ‘Shifting Dunes’, is a dreamy, flowing track with shifting guitars washing over the steady rhythm section just like the sand of a dune.
‘A Kiss Before Dying’ evokes all the elements of Lynch favourite Julee Cruise, Ry Cooder’s soundtrack for Paris Texas and the emotive romanticism of Chris Isaacs.
‘Bad Town’ (with its Ry Cooder hushed guitar brush intro) is one track where the pinpoint clarity of the production on this album is showcased. Haunting and languorous, with a guitar solo that is poised and graceful – allowing the space inbetween the instruments to shine just as brightly – cascading and spilling.
‘Mystery Road’, ‘Static’ ‘It’s Voodoo’ are all droplets of pure indie pop joy – maybe a touch of the hard to define label Americana – but certainly a jangling paced and melodic tune that evokes the spirit of Mazzy Star or Cowboy Junkies.
Final track on the album, ‘Old Arcade’, is a gorgeously aching track with such a delicate melody: subtle and memorable. The air of mystery and alienation is compounded by the themes:
Found the note you left behind
Said it happened over time
Some crimes go unseen
They just slip into the sea
By the old arcade
Still Corners do evoke a trail of estimable bands stretching, as noted above, from Ry Cooder to Chris Isaacs, Cowboy Junkies to Mazzy Star and even a dash of the Jesus and Mary Chain in their (highly underrated) acoustic album ‘Stoned and Dethroned’. I even detect a Dire Straits-ian Mark Knopfler Strat guitar sound at times: a laudable and highly impressive feat.
Above all, and identifiable influences aside, ‘The Last Exit’ is magnificent. It is a immersive feast that stands on its own two feet (or four wheels on the desert highway). It shimmers, it glows mysteriously and casts a dreamy spell. The geographical imprint of the desert, the expanse of the sparkling night sky and the indelible air of romanticism pervades the album and creates for me an immense and satisfying sense of joy.
Still Corners are:
- Tessa Murray – vocals, keys
- Greg Hughes – multi-instrumentalist/producer/engineer