With new album The Weight Of the Sun, Modern Studies haven’t actually changed the blueprint of their previous two albums, more adapted it. With the two main protagonists living apart, Emily Scott in Lancashire, while Rob St John is in Scotland, social distancing hasn’t made the slightest difference to the band, but thats not stopped Modern Studies making an album that hangs together as possibly their best yet. That their voices work so well together, the gruffness of St John sweetened by the soft beauty of Scott is one of the things that really makes the album so listenable.
Essentially it’s a folk record. But of course, Modern Studies being what they are, it’s more than that. It pulls in elements of prog pop – just listen to the rather brilliant album opener Photograph for evidence there, with these wistful chants giving way on occasion to these tumbling, winding riff that throw you momentarily off the musical (or at least rhythmical) scent. There’s a whiff of post-rock here and a nod toward indie rock there. But Modern Studies stick to the program and steadfastly refuse to be pigeonholed.
It’s a record of so many highlights. Early in the record theirs the melancholy indie rock of Run for Cover, decorated with woozy synths sounds and backing vocals, followed by the immediate and emotive classic songwriting of Heavy Water, a track that Rob told us in a recent interview is ”…a song about hypothermia, or heartbreak. Maybe both, I’m not sure’
As the record progresses there’s the sweeping ‘She’ but the slightly stuttering, almost angular ‘Corridors’ really the ear. Elsewhere the brooding Brother with its flute figures and hypnotic nature casts a spell, and Jacqueline sparkles in its simplicity. By the time album closer Shape of Light wistfully leaves us, there’s a calm fulfilment that the record provides.
Throughout The Weight of the Sun, there’s a pastoral beauty about both the music and the lyrics. Modern Studies haven’t invented anything new, but they never did, and if you think that’s what it takes to make a lovely, enjoyable record that sustains multiple listens, then you are mistaken. It’s a record that see Modern Studies become even better at what they were already good at, and create something lasting for all of us in these weird, stifling times.