Modern Studies – Welcome Strangers

Welcome Strangers feels like Modern Studies at their most ambitious, as abstract as it is accessible and as complex as it is beautifully simple

Album Review by Harry Harris | 18 May 2018
  • Modern Studies Welcome Strangers
Album title: Welcome Strangers
Artist: Modern Studies
Label: Fire Records
Release date: 18 May

Ambition is a hard thing to quantify in music, but Welcome Strangers feels like Modern Studies at their most ambitious. The geographically disparate quartet – based in Glasgow, Perthshire and Lancashire between them – have created something that feels as abstract as it does accessible, as complex as it is beautifully simple.

The main shift on Welcome Strangers is one of orchestration. Buoyed by Creative Scotland funding, the band have added more layers, more sounds, and more players to their arrangements. Horns and Trumpets perhaps alludes to this in the title, starting with an almost psychedelic groove before gradually building into something a lot more dense and spacey. Mud and Flame is similar, beginning with the sound of a disintegrated tape-loop of singer Emily Scott's voice, which then works as a kind of bed for shuffling, Fairport Convention-esque folk-rock.

The orchestration of the record, both in terms of instruments used and the directions songs move in, has a strong, world-building character. You wonder how Modern Studies would do with a film score, or an art installation. The two voices of Scott and Rob St. John help with this too – almost entirely in parallel, their vocal is hypnotising, trance-like and very easy to get sucked into. 

One of the album's greatest strengths is how it incorporates these experimental choices into something very musical, although that does mean you do occasionally miss what's below the surface on first listen. Different things rise to the top the more time you invest in the record, so if it's not clicking with you immediately, trust that it eventually will.

Listen to: Let Idle Hands, Mud and Flame