If there's one thing you can say about Still Corners, it's that they're a consistent pair. Since their debut in 2011, Creatures of an Hour, they've been delivering hazy, eighties-inspired dreampop. Unfortunately, they're also consistent in doing the bare minimum to be listenable, and while Dead Blue is a little more sonically polished than their previous fare, the impression it offers is no different.
One misconception about dreampop is that it has no room in the hypnotic textures to actually deliver good songwriting. Still Corners exploits that misconception. The duo offers up all the gated reverb, glittering synth lines, and heavy vocoders at their disposal, but the tracks on this album are repetitious and littered with harmonic cliches. Songs like 'Lost Boys' and 'Currents' are never quite able to find a melody, and Tessa Murray's affected murmurs only accentuate the band's failings. Given these are the two opening tracks, the listener isn't exactly left with the best of impressions. Still, while 'Bad Country' might never match up to the postpunk it's emulating -- or indeed offer anything new -- the ever-evolving, Cure-esque backing makes Murray's vocals less underwhelming, more haunting and nihilistic.
"The production is mostly solid, lending to an otherworldly, fantastical atmosphere"
Where this album actually does something interesting with harmony, it feels less like the mannered phantasmagoria of a John Carpenter horror score, more the accident of a high school rock band. Sinister vocalisations create satisfying dissonances on 'Crooked Fingers', as do the caterwaulings on 'Dreamhorse', but the band never seems quite comfortable with the result, drowning these features in bassy reverb and arpeggiated synth lines, which are repeated ad nauseam through the majority of the album. The production is mostly solid, lending to an otherworldly, fantastical atmosphere, but here it overpowers. It's only in the instrumental interlude and postlude, 'Skimming' and 'River's Edge', respectively, that they seem comfortable with exploring harmonic clashes and allowing their music to evolve beyond the bounds of one or two chord progressions -- perhaps due to the brevity of these tracks.
Despite disappointing first impressions, Dead Blue does pick up towards the end. 'Downtown' is soulful, low-key and longing, and 'The Fixer's insistent guitar strumming and distorted vocals creates something altogether more menacing, for once reaching beyond the bare requirements of their genre. You get the sense that Still Corners have potential they don't seem especially willing to use, and that only makes their successes more bittersweet.
Without occasional changes in timbre and tempo, the tracks on this album would be near-indistinguishable: if you exchanged the synths for guitar, bass and drums, a listener would see through the haze and realize that this is not good music. It's not especially bad music, either, but for a band who could do so much with the eighties aesthetic, it's infuriatingly inoffensive. Still, sometimes the retro haze is just what you want -- though I'd recommend projects like Claire Voyant, Makeup and Vanity Set, or Dave McCabe and the Ramifications instead.