Music

Modern Studies' 'Welcome Strangers' Possesses a Timeless Cinematic Quality

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Scottish chamber pop ensemble Modern Studies document and detail the unknown with strong writing and recording on their second album Welcome Strangers.

Welcome Strangers
Modern Studies

Fire

18 May 2018

Welcome Strangers, the second album by Scotland-based quartet Modern Studies, is deep and mystical, with determined and deeply affecting duets on top of delicate instrumentation, definite drums and percussion, and sweeping atmospheres dropped in for mood and reverence. To say the music and vocals on Welcome Strangers are affecting provides little insight into the impact of the songwriting and arrangement weaved into each track of the album. Modern Studies' focused approach is evident uniformly on the album, and its exploration of the "occult" (as in unknown and strange) is performed in entrancing beauty.

While there are an opening and closing on Welcome Strangers, the closeness each track holds across the album offers a consistency perceived as without beginning or end. The album is rooted in elements of Britain first and foremost, with a sense of dreariness and unknown lurking at each turning point. The effects of the atmosphere enveloped on the album and the mood evoked by steady lyrics and similar themes and instrumentation generate a feeling of timeliness without fear of past or present.

Duetted and complementing vocals by Emily Scott and Rob St. John coupled with strong arrangements and perfectly balanced instrumental sections drive the album forward. Opener "Get Back Down" brings these elements into focus quietly, but lest any delayed introduction occurs, music opens the door for Scott's high octave singing to enter and present themes of "strangeness" (title reference) and friends and family. The next track, "Disco", offers a quiet piano and orchestral background, and a slow droning horn section placed alongside effects of chatting in a coffee house or around a dinner table.

Lead single "Mud and Flame" offers a haunting taped delay of Scott's vocals for a unique rhythmic element, while the drumming by Joe Smillie perfectly offsets that element and provides a strong generator for more effects and lightly added guitar by St. John. "Mud and Flame" accentuates the title of the album in its delivery of questions regarding identity and place, sung with a clarity and focus that presents the relevance and strength these details have for modern humanity. The concluding section speeds up the tempo for a pace that illuminates discovery and pressing forward outside a comfort zone, again details that demonstrate the presence of the album's title, Welcome Strangers.

"Let Idle Hands", a song centered still around duetted vocals, a strings section, and timbered drums suggests a David Byrne quality in delivery and style. The song is brisk, too, with a wailing outro giving into the loud strings of "It's Winter" for a stark contrast. These tracks build upon a timeliness in their quality and songwriting as they progress in the album, with modern technology and elements the only clues of the album's immediacy in its present. In the mid-album track "Young Sun" there is a definite break between the vocals presented on the album and the instrumentation that shifts the tone dramatically. Here a guitar intro followed by upbeat vocals detracts markedly from the melancholy that permeates the mood of the first five tracks, but the atmosphere and mood of an unknown quality remain strong. Coincidentally, the lyrics reference offering and equally rejecting change – immediately, as if celebrating acceptance and noting the paths one takes regardless of openness and opportunity.

Stylistically the album is solid, but the second half feels deliberately driven by faster rhythm and louder instrumentation. "Horns and Trumpets" and "Fast As Flows" both include an intro that pushes forward unexpectedly, while still enjoyably incorporating a majestic and precisely mixed atmosphere. The instrumentation is particularly louder on "Fast As Flows", especially compared to the quieter environment presented in all the preceding album. Accordingly, the vocals are louder, and the mood is darker. Horns dramatically note shifts in direction and strings articulate a sense of the unknown. Quietly, this morphs into "The House", the penultimate track and a bright, yet full of doom, track that articulates revelation and destruction before revving up growth and renewal in an increasingly cascading closing section. A break goes into "Phosphene Dream", where connections are built across harmonizing vocals between Scott and St. John. The song documents the exploration of connection that results in awareness and knowledge, and optimistically celebrates the possibility presented by the new relationship.

Promotional material by the band highlighted their year-long writing and recording process in 2017 and the incorporation of scenic elements across Britain and friends, family, and many session musicians to compliment and round out the sound of the album. This information is hard to ignore given the strength of Welcome Strangers, and particularly affirming an idea that the album and its themes abandon and ignore developments in modern society that reject the unknown out of fear or selfishness. Whatever comes next or whatever introduction that follows is welcomed, be it strange or unknown, complementary or weird, and still friend and family. Modern Studies offer a beautiful document with Welcome Strangers, an album that is atmospheric, dramatic, and in its conclusion conveys a cinematic quality that highlights the closeness felt between each track and by the band themselves.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.