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Still Corners - Creature of an Hour

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Artist: Still Corners

Album: Creature of an Hour

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Oct. 13, 2011

Still Corners lives in a shadowy, twilight world, the band’s melodies fogged in with ambiguities, but sharpened by an indefinable sense of threat. The core duo, songwriter Greg Hughes and singer Tessa Murray, work in the most delicate shades of noire, creating something like a Sam Spade novel realized in film by Jean Cocteau.

The starting point has to be Murray’s voice, which floats and drifts in disembodied ease over Hughes’ quietly dense arrangements. She sounds a good bit like Julee Cruise, the Twin Peaks siren, with the same high, childlike purity, the same eerily disturbing sweetness. Cruise, it must be said, required the plastic wrapped corpse of Laura, the unnerving oddities of One-Eyed Jack’s, to provide a context for her fragile voice. She never made much of a mark outside the series.

In the same way, Murray requires an overlayer of darkness to emerge from sweetness. The best cut on Creature of an Hour, by far, is “I Wrote in Blood.” A submerged violence percolates under Murray’s airy caressing tones, not just in the lyrics, but in the ticking menace of staccato guitar, the spectral wash of organ and electric piano. There’s danger here, transmuting lullaby softness into something altogether more disturbing. By contrast, “The Twilight Hour” is undiluted prettiness, airy vocal counterparts and humming, reassuring organ drones. It — along with less nuanced songs like “The White Season” — run the danger of slipping into twee, their melodies dissolving into sugar water.

Yet with only a hint of mystery and threat, these tunes come to ghostly, haunting life. Not for nothing is one of the cuts on this album titled “Velveteen,” its soft, deep-piled textures of voice and guitar brushing luxuriously up against your skin. Yet there’s a chill in its softness, a sense of ephemeral joy and approaching mortality. “Submarine,” the album’s lone rocker, puts a harder beat under dreamy vocal fancies and an array of effects into its mesmeric guitars. It drives and batters, but in a spectral, surreal way that has none of the heat and sweat of traditional rock music.

Creatures of an Hour is never less than pretty, and often a good deal more. Hughes is clearly still exploring ways to set off his partner’s voice, finding the right balance between its whispery purity and the darker textures that fascinate him. When it works, these songs have the menace of a pleasant dream just turning into a nightmare, and it’s riveting. During those moments, you can’t turn away.

By Jennifer Kelly

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