The origins of Still Corners could have been plucked from the plot of a romantic comedy starring your favorite cutesy couple. Greg Hughes, who grew up in Arizona and Texas, had followed his heart to London and was interested in putting together a band. One day he got on a train that was diverted to the wrong station and encountered Tessa Murray, who was in the same predicament.
They were the only people standing on the platform. She asked if he was lost. He was, but he ended up meeting a musical partner with whom he shares a tremendous amount of chemistry.
“I know, I know,” Hughes says recently on speaker phone from a hotel with Murray in the room. “Everyone has a hard time believing that story, but it’s completely true. We got to chatting, and that’s when she said she was missing choir [practice].”
The rest is best seen in the rearview mirror: He was looking for a singer, they started making demos, and that’s it.
As Still Corners, their roles are fairly defined: Hughes writes most of the music and lyrics and plays all of the instruments on the band’s two albums. Murray brings the songs to life with an celestial soprano she honed from singing in various choirs. You could say she’s the Julee Cruise to his David Lynch. They flesh out their live shows, including Sunday’s performance opening for Chvrches at Paradise Rock Club, with two extra members.
Released on Sub Pop Records, the duo’s first album was a shadowy affair, cloaked in hazy, electronic pop with Murray’s voice buried in the rubble. “Creatures of an Hour,” from 2011, courted comparisons to Broadcast, but its new follow-up puts the band more in the company of Beach House, who also happen to be signed to Sub Pop.
Where the debut was insular (according to Murray), “Strange Pleasures” is panoramic, starting with its opening missive: “The Trip” invites the listener to take exactly that, a nocturnal journey through lush, silvery landscapes. An after-hours vibe permeates the whole album, from song titles (“Midnight Drive,” “We Killed the Moonlight”) to its fluid production. They’ve cleared out the cobwebs for a glossy sophistication that makes their debut, in retrospect, sound like a rehearsal.
“I think the first album was a very cathartic record. I went through a bad breakup, and I think it reflected all of that in the songs. Everything was very pulled back,” Hughes says. “From the production standpoint, I wanted to make this new one a bit bigger and widescreen. Epic, I guess.”
Murray, in particular, has emerged from her cocoon on “Strange Pleasures” and emotes with a breathlessness that somehow is both detached and compelling. On “Beginning to Blue,” her voice is a siren call you swear you could grasp – but it’s far beyond your reach. It’s swirling in the stratosphere.
“Creatures of an Hour” used one part of her voice, she says, but the new songs call for a more nimble approach, putting her upfront in warm, spectral arrangements couched in shimmering guitars and liquid synth-pop.
“There’s more of me coming through the singing this time,” Murray says. “From a listening perspective, what I love about the guitars on this record is that they’re so lyrical. It’s not often that you can sing along to guitar parts.”
For whatever reason, the idea of Murray anchoring the band as its vocalist wasn’t apparent to either of them immediately. Hughes was auditioning different singers but never found what he was looking for.
“I think initially there was never a plan for me to join the band. I was just helping out with the demos while the search for a singer continued,” Murray says. “It got to a stage where Greg would say, ‘This just doesn’t sound right.’”
“It didn’t sound like Tessa,” Hughes interjects.
“I thought his songs were really cool. I was kind of impressed by the way Greg made my singing sound, because I had never really heard myself recorded before,” she says. “It was only when I was listening to those demos of the other singers that I realized – and this is probably bad to say – ‘Hey, mine sound really good!’”
Reflecting on how it all happened by happenstance, Murray sums up what makes Still Corners sound so natural, so unfettered: “Someone was moving chess pieces around to make it work, I think.”