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Modern Studies - Swell to Great

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 23 / 12 / 2017

Modern Studies - Swell to Great
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Debut album from Modern Studies, a four-piece band with roots in Scotland and Lancashire, that has taken folk music into unchartered territories

Now available on Fire Records (the album was originally self-released last year), the debut album from Modern Studies deserves a second shot; although it’s not going to knock you off your feet on the first listen, the melancholy sound that this four-piece create still haunts the listener long after that first play ends and urges you to listen a little deeper. It could be argued that singer Emily Scott’s ghost-like vocals are the main attraction over the dozen songs that feature on ‘Swell to Great'; Scott is certainly an emotive vocalist, her dreamy tones well suited to the thoughtful, folky songs on the album but the beating heart of the album is the Victorian harmonium which really defines the sound on ‘Swell to Great’. Scott and the harmonium are joined by Rob St John, Pete Harvey and Joe Smillie throughout, and the band's reading of the traditional ‘Bold Fisherman’ is not only one of the best version of this oft-covered song but the best place to start when searching out an example of just how beautiful and affecting the music is that this band create. St John almost, but not quite, steals the show vocally from Scott on this rendition. Both vocalists are at their best here and their voices compliment each other perfectly while the haunting backing completes the picture. It’s a perfect combination of the old and the new, while not losing any of the original qualities of the song the band has subtly turned it into a contemporary classic. Breathtaking. But then, after a few plays, breathtaking could be applied to most of the songs on ‘Swell to Great’. Following on from ‘The Bold Fisherman’ is ‘Today’s Regrets’ a track that is hard to get past the first minute without hitting the repeat button. The way those voices gel together is not only beautiful but also addictive. With minimal backing from fifth band-member Harmonium, the song eerily unfolds; when the vocals cease and the listener is left with just those magical unnerving sounds the effect is chilling, truly a case of when less is more. There are many different strains of what can be loosely called folk music, more seem to be added with each passing year, but Modern Studies have merged the traditional and contemporary more successfully than most on ‘Swell to Great’. In fact, it goes far beyond what we usually term folk music. Tracks such as ‘Sleep’ are so unique, so unlike any other music, contemporary or not, that it’s difficult to pin any kind of label on them. It’s the combination of four like-minded musicians not only making sounds together but breathing through the sounds, a pair of lead vocalists that compliment each other brilliantly, one of which, with every play of ‘Swell to Great’, is proving to be one of the most inventive female voices to come out of the UK in years and the innovative use of old instruments. The use of analogue synths, cello and double bass along with the harmonium, especially when the former are used sparsely, combined with those remarkable voices, make ‘Swell to Great’ a hauntingly beautiful set of songs, an album that will sound as fresh and original in years to come as it does today. A timeless set of songs in fact, performed and produced by an outstanding band of musicians, which deserves to be heard.

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

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