This introduction I had written before I started to read up on the band, that I had never heard from before. At least this time it was not my inadequate knowledge of music, Swell To Great is Modern Studies' first album, by musicians that had played in other bands (together). It was the story around the album that brings my opening of this post in a somewhat more interesting context.
The "founding member" of the band is an old church harmonium from Northern Ireland that found its way to Scotland and the centre duo of Modern Studies, Emily Scott and Rob St. John. Anyone listening to Swell To Great can only but notice the centre sound of it: the Victorian harmonium. Around it several of the songs were written and arranged. In fact the album title comes from one of the sound options the harmonium offers: swell to great. In combination with a cello the mood is set.
A harmonium is the poor church's organ. Calvinists had one in their homes when I was a child to sing church hymns on. That explains the sound of the album. It's solemn, serious and supposed to aid people in thinking about their lives and contemplating their sins. It is exactly the sound Swell To Great offers; in parts of the album.
|Promo photo by Paul Marr|
In other songs the past is left for what it is and Modern Studies proves to come up with a modern pop oriented folk song. 'Bottle Green' and 'Divebombing' are two very successful examples of this approach. The singing by either Emily Scott or Rob St. John is always subdued, the setting in which they sing makes it (even) more serious. It then happens that an instrumental like 'The Sea Horizon', besides reminding me instantly of a beautiful painting and album cover ('Maggie Brown') by Gerhard Richter, makes me think of the folk side of Pink Floyd on 'Atom Heart Mother' and 'Echoes'.
The more I listen to Swell To Great the more sides to the band I start to notice. There is simply not one story to this album. There are several. Modern Studies has different faces that it plays well off. It would be going too far to state that Modern Studies is unique, but the band has carved out a little piece of something for itself that certainly makes it stand out. I have to be in the mood to listen to the music or bring myself into the mood while listening and then it happens. Once I've reached that state my brain swells with the music. Special Swell To Great certainly is.
You can listen to and buy Swell To Great here: