At a certain point in every music lover’s life, there comes a moment that all have experienced in some capacity. The moment in question stereotypically occurs during a late-night drive following some exhaustive, action-filled evening, whether it be a sobering party, a nerve-wracking date or a grueling work shift. It’s that magical time when after-hours meets the wee hours of the morning. Then, with darkness looming all around, the brain on the precipice of shutting down and only the radio to keep company, a song emerges from the speakers. It’s a slow, low-key number—the kind you maybe remember in some form but can’t place the title or the artist. It’s a song you wouldn’t have been actively searching for, but—for those few brief minutes—it becomes the perfect song to soundtrack your offbeat mood, whether that be anything from muted celebration to lingering sadness.
Still Corners’ Strange Pleasures is an album filled with songs of this nature—hazy, ethereal tracks that one would have little use for in the light of day but which begin something quite extraordinary at a certain bewitching hour. It’s driving music for the insomniac soul, with song titles like “The Trip” and “Midnight Drive” only giving further credence to this notion.
Strange Pleasures marks the London-based band’s follow-up to their debut 2011 album Creatures of an Hour. Just as on Creatures, the duo keep things simple. They have neither the catchy dance-pop influence of a Grimes nor the sweeping, densely structured soundscapes of an M83 to propel them forward. Rather, multi-instrumentalist Greg Hughes and singer Tessa Murray take the minimalist route, serving up tracks that rarely consist of more than atmospheric synth sounds deftly humanized by Murray’s haunting vocals.
Aforementioned opener “The Trip” sets things in motion, commencing with a spacey noodling that soon transitions into a smooth synth line. A strumming acoustic guitar and a chiming electric guitar line soon join the mix. At around the two-minute mark, Murray finally makes her dramatic entrance, proceeding to elaborate on titular “trip” that “keeps us alive” with all the wistful reflection of an old-school country singer.
For the most part, the rest of the album continues in this vein, with tracks like “I Can’t Sleep” and title track/album closer “Strange Pleasures” boasting the kind of mesmerizing dream pop just begging to be included in the next Sofia Coppola film. When the band does try to break away from this mold, as in the case of the MGMT-like “Future Age,” the effect feels a tad disingenuous and off-putting.
Despite its reserved nature, if the album has anything approaching earworm singles, it’s “Berlin Lovers” and “Beatcity.” Augmented by a dirty synth hook courtesy of Hughes, “Berlin Lovers” sees Murray bemoaning the naivety of young lovers “eaten by desire” before repeatedly sighing “so young” in a mid-song breakdown that’s almost prayer-like in its intense repetition. “Beatcity,” meanwhile, finds the singer cooing about a lost love that she “hasn’t seen for some time” over a propelling electro beat that only grows more powerful as Murray’s voice becomes more and more mournful.
Like Creatures of an Hour, Strange Pleasures is a piece of great beauty—albeit, one that’s not for every occasion. If heard at the right time and place, however, it‘s the kind of work that can worm its way into your memory bank and haunt you long after the sounds have faded.