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Still Corners, ‘Strange Pleasures’ – Album Review

It is a cruel, unfair reality that musical tastes can change in the time it takes to make an album. Just as Beach House are at their peak of popularity, fellow dream-pop acts like Chairlift, Memoryhouse and Chromatics rise to the fore, making the field seem crowded, despite their unique sounds. Into the fray come Still Corners with their sophomore album. To dismiss the band as also-rans because of their general similarity to those aforementioned acts would be unfair, but despite capable songwriting and arrangements, they add little to the conversation, and that’s hard to ignore.

Not that the English duo doesn’t break away from the sleepy, unaffected sounds dream-pop artists tend to rely on. On ‘Future Age,’ a disco stomp carries the verse to a psychedelic chorus that rings familiar quickly. This familiarity is due to the tune’s similarity to MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel.’

Borrowing from established melodies and aesthetics is where Still Corners proves most successful on ‘Strange Pleasures,’ with ‘Fireflies’ taking a page from Purity Ring’s beats, the surprisingly sleepy ‘I Can’t Sleep’ coming off almost exactly like a Beach House song and ‘Berlin Lovers’ hitting on the kinds of sing-alongs favored by Ellie Goulding.

By working so closely with ’80s synthesizers and effects, Still Corners set themselves up for a struggle, as all of their dream-pop contemporaries had to differentiate themselves from that same time period. They simply don’t manage to stand out, and ‘Strange Pleasures’ arrives three years late to a party that’s long over.

Then again, Still Corners may not be courting the music aficionados that listen to every chilled-out synth-pop outfit around. Maybe they’re aiming for the casual music listener, one who will hear them at the American Apparel and download the song on iTunes while rocking their brand-new solid-colored clothing. Should those people visit the Sub Pop website, they’ll find a bio that reads like Trollope was a Pitchfork writer. Of Greg Hughes, the man behind Still Corners’ derivative sounds, the press notes state: “Hughes is blessed with the kind of inexorable ardor for refreshing and sharpening his muse that is common to all connoisseur sculptors of apparently effortless, instantly elegant pop music.” Is that so?

This goes on for nine paragraphs that never cease to make the reader wonder if this is all a joke. Is this the “strange pleasure” the title refers to? When it is says that the album is “surely destined to usher Still Corners to a deserved place at cerebral dream-pop’s high table,” it’s apparent this is not for the casual listener, either. It’s for the artist, and it’s for fame and recognition and whatever else results in making music that sounds like whatever works for other people. Greg Hughes and Tessa Bell don’t make unpleasant music, but they do fake pleasant music. It is hard to tell which is worse.

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