donderdag 26 oktober 2017

Swell To Great. Modern Studies

Every once in a while an album comes by that has to be approached with veneration. An album as solemn as a mass in church. Swell To Great is such an album. Modern Studies is a kind of band that seems to be on this planet to send a message from the point of view that a joke or a laugh could break the spell of the message that is sent. Like the very first singers repeated folklore through verse and the history of the tribe. It was not about the melody but about the verses and the content.

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
Not all is 19th century. The basis of Swell To Great is folk music of old. As such it's only the starting point. Modern Studies, 'in folk music' I'm of mind to add, starts working from there. Scott and St. John, together with Pete Harvey and Joe Smillie, create an atmosphere that has many modern elements woven into tradition of old. Through the use of tapes an atmosphere is created that I hear regularly in Kairos, .No's radio show, with the difference that here at the heart of a song is a song and a (vocal) melody. From there a world is presented that is almost beyond music and could be anything, mythical, mysterious, cold and warm at the same time, like a hallucination during a high fever. Like a river in a rustic landscape covered with mist, cutting the river and the sky in two.

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:

1 opmerking:

  1. Found on Twitter: "Lovely review of StG (digging the Atom Heart Mother nod...)". Thank You @Modern_Studies_