Scottish quartet Modern Studies unite pastoral chamber pop and folk with a gently experimental approach. Incorporating lush harmonies, jazz-tinged rhythms, and subtle electronics, the band produce elaborate full-lengths such as 2018’s ‘Welcome Strangers’.
Modern Studies formed in 2015 around the songwriting of Glaswegian musician Emily Scott. Having recently written a set of songs on an antique pedal harmonium, which she was about to donate to her friend Pete Harvey’s studio, Scott’s material soon became the center of a new collaboration with Harvey, Joe Smillie, and Rob St. John. The group of multi-instrumentalists assembled at Harvey’s Pumpkinfield studio in rural Perthshire and adorned Scott’s thoughtful tunes with cello, analog synths, double bass, drums, and a variety of other tones, emerging with their full-length debut, ‘Swell to Great’.
Released by Scottish label Song, By Toad in September 2016, the album became a critical success, making MOJO Magazine’s Top 20 year-end list. In addition to their LP, Modern Studies were also featured on a 2015 tribute compilation of songs by U.K. folk legend Shirley Collins called Shirley Inspired. In November 2016, ‘Swell to Great’ was reissued worldwide by Fire Records.
In 2017, the band began recording their sophomore record. They returned to Harvey‘s Pumpkinfield studio, and acquired a grant that allowed them to hire a chamber orchestra and a village hall in which to record the album. ‘Welcome Strangers’ was released in 2018, and was preceded by lead single “Mud and Flame”. Artist and sound designer Tommy Perman then crafted a vastly different electronic interpretation of the album, ‘Emergent Slow Arcs’, which was issued in 2019.
‘Emergent Slow Arcs’ is like the electrified ghost of ‘Welcome Strangers’ — a few traces of guitar drones and strings are present from the original, but they’re encapsulated in fog and diced up, forming new rhythms which stutter and dance. Gone are the original’s lush harmonies and brass arrangements, as well as its rootsy sophistication and homey feel. Essentially, there’s no point in comparing ‘Emergent Slow Arcs’ to ‘Welcome Strangers’ because it is a separate entity, even if it shares the same source material. Taken on its own terms with fresh ears, ‘Emergent Slow Arcs’ is a mysterious, frequently fascinating ambient techno record which shimmers and shivers, occasionally breaking into spirited movement.
(Timothy Monger/Paul Simpson, AMG)
“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.”