Around this time last year, FRUK’s Rob Bridge had the pleasure of interviewing one of Scotland’s most progressive outfits Modern Studies who were then midway through a tour. If that interview highlighted anything it was the band’s collaborative creative process which aided the expansiveness of their last album Swell to Great. A few months on from that release and the band announced they had signed to Fire Records, a label that seemed a natural choice given that their fellow stablemates are no strangers to expansive creativity (Pictish Trail, Jane Weaver, Josephine Foster, Howe Gelb, Half Japanese).
Now they proudly present ‘Welcome Strangers’ (Out May 18th, on Fire Records), an album of modernist pop weirdness for the 21st century, a bricolage where classicism meets experimentalism and repeated listening unearths new stories for this contemporary age. More elaborate and expansive than its predecessor, this is music as cartography, Modern Studies mapping their own multi-dimensional internal world. Check out the catchy Mud and Flame below on which a decayed tape loop of Emily’s vocals are used to create the stuttering rhythm opening. It’s also our song of the day.
It is an elemental and often spectral world of contrasting tones and hues that is found within ‘Welcome Strangers’, one whose lyrical vocabulary is of loss, light, air, sun, growth; of spires, seeds and phosphene dreams. Here is the Britain of visionaries such as Kate Bush, Broadcast or PJ Harvey, a nation of dark magic, conﬂict, celebration and confusion, all at the same time.
Working at Pete’s Pumpkinfield studio in rural Perthshire through 2017, the band used a Creative Scotland grant to hire a chamber orchestra and a remote village hall to record them in. Contributors include sisters, wives, toddlers, freeform saxophonists and The Pumpkinseeds, an ensemble featuring violins, violas, cellos, trombones and vocals, brought together to play Pete and Emily’s collaborative string, brass and vocal arrangements. Truly, a family affair.
Pumpkinfield was also a key enabler for their last album as Rob explained in our last interview:
“It’s attached to his house, it was built to a custom spec a couple of years ago. You go from the entrance to the studio into a little porch and his family kitchen…and then from the back door, you’re out into fields, rivers and hills. It’s a great place to work, not only because Pete is part of the band and totally attuned to the same ‘classicism and experimentalism with a pop song in the middle’ thing that we’re all working on, but he’s also a very talented recording engineer with a tonne of great kit. Working in his studio, there’s no stress. You can pop out and have a mid-morning mug of wine, or a midnight coffee; potter around in the fields, come back and make some more noise.”
As well as further ﬂeshing out the sound with analogue synths, tube organs, drum machines and mellotrons, some inventive techniques were deployed – such as the decayed tape loop mentioned above, or prepared guitars recurring as percussion and drones.
Modern Studies are: Emily Scott (vocals, organs, piano, double bass). Rob St. John (vocals, guitars, synths, harmonium, tape loops). Pete Harvey (cello, bass, piano). Joe Smillie (drums, mellotron, vocals).
Welcome Strangers Tracklist
1. Get Back Down
3. Mud and Flame
4. Let Idle Hands
5. It’s Winter
6. Young Sun
7. Horns and Trumpets
8. Fast As Flows
9. The House
10. Phosphene Dream
Pre-Order via Bandcamp: https://modernstudiesfire.bandcamp.com/
Photo credit: Greig Jackson