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.
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'.
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:
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