modern studies Swell to Great (clear vinyl LP, £17.50)label: fire
“There is a calmness in its melancholy, a beauty in its blues. These are songs that see the mystical beyond the material, abstracted folk ballads awash in memory” ****MOJO…. Forming out of a recording project via Scotland and Lancashire, the band first came together in 2015; ‘I played in his band and he played in mine’ composer and singer Emily Scott says of Rob St John. A natural move saw her similarly recruit Pete Harvey (King Creosote, The Leg) and Joe Smillie (Call To Mind, boss of Glasgow’s Glad Cafe). Inspired by an antique Victorian harmonium that eventually found its way from Northern Ireland to Scotland, Modern Studies’ debut album ‘Swell To Great’, aptly named after an organ stop, was unusually written with the malfunctioning instrument at the centre of their songwriting. A stimulating approach that melds the old and new through their instruments, delicate harmonies and rich compositions that are steeped in traditional and contemporary folk music. The restrictive process even had their wheezy founding member, the harmonium, controlling the pitch as the intrepid band members tuned their tools accordingly. Recorded in Harvey’s studio, Pumpkinfield in the rural surroundings of Perthshire, the quartet’s songs are embedded in the sea and the landscape of the shoreline. Emily Scott’s tender lead vocals soar over the sweeping cello, bellowing harmonium and gentle percussive crashes on ‘Black Street’, ‘Bottle Green’ and ‘Sleep’, while hidden in its depths Rob St John, whose distinctive vocals recall David Thomas Broughton, experiments with tape loops that are buried within the layers of their orchestral arrangements. St John, known for his field recordings and art-science projects, cites as his guiding inspiration Brian Eno’s experimentalism and pop sensibilities. Unfurling bucolic stories come with Scott’s lyrics for each song, ‘Supercool’ sets the tone with an immediate sense of yearning, moving into more contemporary folk-pop on ‘Father Is A Craftsman’ and ‘Dive-bombing’ evokes images of summer frolicking on the shore. The record includes an exceptional and haunting ode to Shirley Collins’ rendition of traditional song ‘Bold Fisherman’ that featured on the Earth Recordings ‘Shirley Inspired’ compilation. Track Listing 1 Supercool 2 Black Street 3 Father Is A Craftsman 4 Bottle Green 5 Bold Fisherman 6 Today’s Regrets 7 Dive-bombing 8 The Sea Horizon 9 Sleep 10 Everybody’s Saying 11 Ten White Horses 12 Swimming. Bonus Tracks… (LP Download Only) 1 Harry Rag 2 Kurlew (From ‘Avocet Revisited). Transparent frosted vinyl LP, printed inner, download card included.
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