With their debut full-length Creatures of an Hour, the London-based dream pop act Still Corners have expanded their sound considerably from past releases, with principal songwriter Greg Hughes allowing his music to break free from his tendency towards a pseudo-mod culture-inspired aesthetic that dominated the band's first release, 2008's still-appealing EP Remember Pepper?, occasionally at the expense of the music. This change, however, wasn't really unexpected: since that EP, Hughes has been busy composing new material, assembling a permanent band to perform it, and searching for the right vocalist to enact his particular musical vision.
So, what is his musical vision anyway? While Still Corners continue on in the dream pop tradition, with trudging, hazy vocals and guitars to swoon over, bandleader Hughes is also inspired in large part by the visual aesthetics of the 1960s, "film noir," "Italian horror," and much more besides. In fact, the visual inspiration behind Still Corners' music is what initially made them stand out from the veritable ocean of dream pop and shoegaze bands we hear about these days. Indeed, from the Pepper EP to the 7-inches leading up to Creatures of an Hour, Still Corners' brand of dream pop had not only an enticing cinematic flavor to it, but also an ability to evoke rich visual imagery. But as evidenced by the songs on Creatures, the band's musical progression has resulted in an ideological shift: rather than straining to make their music revolve around visual or aesthetic ideas, they are increasingly letting their music speak for itself.
Accentuating the band's growth, Creatures of an Hour boldly opens with "Cuckoo," its most sober and complex song — and arguably one of the least visually attuned. The track begins with singer Tessa Murray almost cooing "It's like we're going cuckoo / Me and you / Stuck in a time machine / That was just a dream." The song displays a curious ambiguity in its title, lyrics, and melodic arrangements, the likes of which are not found, unfortunately, in the rest of the album. After a brief interlude recalling the sound of earlier material, however, third track "Endless Summer" more properly introduces the album's overall reconciliation between the band's older and newer sounds. It starts off with a captivating guitar melody that quickly gives way to a dull organ; thick, heavy, echoing drums; and Murray's highly stylized singing, all of which provide great drama. It ends with echoing guitars reminiscent of '60s surf rock and, interestingly, the 007 theme. "Summer" leads into "Into the Trees," which matches the energy of its predecessor, not in epic bombast, but in its irresistibly blissful urgency. "Trees" never lets up, with Murray's layered vocals soaring toward a finale awash in guitars. The album quiets down with "The White Season" and "I Wrote in Blood," slower tracks that focus on both melody and Murray's singing voice, before climaxing with "The Twilight Hour," undeniably the album's epic centerpiece. "Twilight" boasts a devastatingly beautiful, melancholic vocal loop mixed with a bittersweet guitar melody, both of which do well to accompany Murray's words: "I just skipped a beat/ When you looked at me."
To be sure, Still Corners aren't the only ones around who've emphasized a visual, cinematic influence and inspiration in their music. Acts as varied as Slowdive, M83, and Natural Snow Buildings have all shared this inclination. But with Creatures of an Hour, Still Corners prove that they can progress beyond this ubiquitous predilection for visual evocation. It's as if songwriter Greg Hughes needed the album format to really demonstrate the range of what Still Corners was musically capable of. If this is indeed the case, then we should certainly expect to hear more interesting and fulfilling material from this band.