zaterdag 19 mei 2018

Welcome Strangers. Modern Studies

Modern Studies entered these pages only a year ago with its first album 'Swell To Great' (read on here: This album was made around a 19th century harmonium that had found its way to the band members. That allowed for a fairly typical sound as all songs were written around the harmonium. The instrument seems to have been retired or passed on to another musician to take care of it.

Spring 2018 Modern Studies already returns with a new album. It may be less special as in extremely specific, but could also be of more inherent beauty as all the constraints have been severed. Welcome Strangers contains music that is able to go straight for the heart. It touches me immediately.

This music can only come from England. Emotions are kept in check, no matter the turmoil surrounding us all. And yet, they are betraying themselves in all the little extras woven into the fabric of the songs. There are so many little details. 'Mud and Flame' is a song that totally floors me. It has the kind of ending, so attractive, I just do not want it to end. 'Let Idle Hands' immediately takes that exuberance down. What might the neighbours think!? I can almost see Modern Studies' musicians think where did my stiff upper lip go?! The music ranges from Kate Bush to late 60s U.K. folk. Songs with a pop feel that somehow turn into jazz or classical influenced intermezzos.

By then Modern Studies has shown once again how fine the voices of Emily Scott and Rob St. John blend together. Yes, Nancy & Lee and Kylie & Nick, but that is only part of the story. Emily Scott escapes this format and leads us all into unknown charters as soon as she sings without lyrics, becoming the lead solo instrument, while the orchestra, the band was able to work with, adorns everything around it with classical sounds.

Half way into the album I have discovered what makes Welcome Strangers so good. Songs can be so serious, solemn even, studies in equilibrium and conservatism before the band breaks out and explores the outer edges of its musical universe. Modern Studies makes musical sparks fly and paints the grey and black multi-coloured. The contrast works miracles on Welcome Strangers. Everyone listening to how 'Young Sun' develops will recognise what I write here immediately. The orchestra goes off on its own making the song broad and jubilant, like the trumpet in 'Horns And Trumpets'. The singing of Scott and St. John, both in a deeper register and super serious, contrast sharply with how the orchestra spews jubilant notes. In the harmonies Scott can totally let go as well and adorn a song with sheer beauty. It works in nearly every song. Modern Studies seems to have made the most of the opportunities is was presented with where the orchestra was concerned through a 'Creative Scotland grant'.

Promo photo
The album ends with the extremely beautiful 'Phosphene Dream'. Nancy & Lee are really close here in the singing, Emily Scott embraces innocence in her voice, combined with a firm rock drums, cotton candy violins graced with spikes for a firm bite. This song seems to want to hold everything in pop, rock and country and gets away with it in a beautiful way. This song could have gone so wrong is my idea but succeeds, 110%.

All this makes Welcome Strangers a huge musical adventure. So much more so than on 'Swell To Great', an album I liked, but there is so much more to like on Modern Studies' new album. It may well make it to my shortlist of albums of 2018.


You can listen to and buy Welcome Strangers here:

Here's the link to our Spotify Playlist to find out what we are writing about:

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