Tag Archives: Modern Studies

SOUNDING with Lomond Campbell & Modern Studies with Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra at Stockbridge Church, Edinburgh, 21/8/17

Amid the comedy chaos of the Edinburgh Fringe, tonight’s SOUNDING showcase in Stockbridge Church offers a tranquil grove in which to look up and take stock of the sheer lyric beauty that is contemporary Scottish indie.

Swapping the raucous Royal Mile for an enchanting venue in the leafy suburbs, SOUNDING features three nights of music from Lomond Campbell and Modern Studies, both acts accompanied by the Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra in association with The Glad Café.

Tonight’s show is more than just a gig: upon arrival, the audience are presented with a download code, postcard and pamphlet, featuring a page of enthused childhood memories, assembled from various members of tonight’s ensemble.

This lovely detail gestures towards the emotional and creative context of SOUNDING’s musical collaboration, with a shared sense of personal narrative and expression.

Like a river, we never stay quite the same but carry onwards the silt of our history; together, the associative nostalgic fragments remind us of how to attend to the world with a childlike wonder.

Reading in advance of the music, you’re prepared for something crystalline, lighthearted and pure; this transformation of memory, place and self into songs that are at once clear and tender, solid and complex.

Firstly, Lomond Campbell takes to the sprawling indigo glow of the stage, cracking jokes between tracks in a manner that feels like a gesture of hospitality.

He begins with ‘The Misery Bell’, a track whose emotional despondence reaches catharsis in the luminous twangs of Campbell’s guitar, along with undulating strings which harmonise warmth in the quietly easeful cool of his voice.

Campbell’s set draws heavily from last year’s Black River Promise, an album written in the once-derelict school in the Highlands that Campbell made his home and studio.

Lyrically, Campbell’s romanticism veers cryptically into a dark pastoral—the sinuous burns and menacing hills which roughen the edges of wilderness—and with the accompanying orchestra, such inner landscapes sprawl into cinematic grandeur.

The set feels like a journey; you might be reminded of Mull Historical Society’s knack for weaving a good yarn about place and memory, but Campbell’s storytelling is perhaps less concrete and more abstract, sharp: “at times I feel like I / have a half-plunged knife in my thigh”, “how many particles does it take to fill the universe?”.

Each song is lifted above its solipsistic origins towards something more expansive, as Campbell’s incisive lyrics tenderly glide above Pete Harvey’s swelling orchestral accompaniments, often recalling Robert Kirby’s tastefully haunting string arrangements on Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left.

When Joe Smillie’s drums kick in at last, it’s like something once-hidden coming out across the bay, a storm of emotion to welcome us home.

Highlights include ‘Every Florist in Every Town’ and the seven-minute melancholy soar of ‘Black River Promise’.

Beautiful projector visuals by Simon Kirby depict rolling flickers of oceanic light and shadow, adding to that dramatic sense of momentum whipped up by jagged cross-rhythms then settling into a soothing legato—the invigorating, contemplative feeling of roving. 

It’s a stirring set, and a perfect way to prepare us for what Modern Studies bring to the stage, including (but not limited to): a choir of three angels, a ‘Kraftwerkian array of keys’, two trombonists and the mesmerising entwining of Emily Scott and Rob St. John’s voices.

Modern Studies perform a generous selection of new material from their forthcoming second album, due for release next year.

There couldn’t be a better way to showcase the flourishing potential of these songs.

Scott’s voice is consistently the guiding lustre of a clear mountain stream, lilting and nuanced, enriched by harmonies from the choir of white-garbed backing vocalists.

The marmoreal gorgeousness of St. John’s baritone adds a bedrock to the euphonious female vocals, subtly melding the graceful inclines of feeling with a sturdy and cherished conviction.

The new songs have a certain edge, a momentum and looseness that goes beyond Swell to Great’s pensive landscapes in pursuit of more dramatic outcrops of potent emotion; the soars and swoons of its longing carried forth in assured melodies, backed with lavish layers of brass, strings and vocal harmony.

The performance evokes a pastoral, chamber-pop atmosphere, with lyrics that offer a literary elegance, lush cello and trombone fleshing out each track with dreamy resonance.

Despite the chamber-pop label, Modern Studies are always reaching for the next horizon of sound—whether it’s a playful touch of the carnivalesque, visionary folk appeal or the sorrowful cadence of Tim Buckley at his most intimately earnest.

Their visuals shift also between micro and macro, depicting plasmatic, microbial and botanical imagery burgeoning into the comparative sublimity of Georgic then celestial vistas (appropriate, given SOUNDING’s proximity to a total solar eclipse).

Throughout, there’s a blending of old and new: the patient patter of analogue instrumentation swept up in fresh melodies, an exploratory sense of revisiting the weathered landscapes and loves of our youth—“If I could change you I would not change you”.

It’s difficult not to leave the gig with a desperate enthusiasm for the new record, a chance to absorb the songs at your own pace; to add their intricate arrangements to your own topographies of memory and place.

Events such as this, alongside the likes of Start to End’s project of covering cult and eclectic albums start-to-finish, prove that an appetite for the record as such still exists; an appetite for music as narrative, journey and immersive experience.

SOUNDING is really about the intrinsically reciprocal beauty of songwriting and performance, the special magic that happens when a body like Creative Scotland puts money where it counts to facilitate a genuine treat of an evening.

Words: Maria Sledmere

Ones to Watch: Electric Fields 2017

Electric Fields was one of the highlights of last year’s festival season, a bargain price and some stellar acts combined with a fully fledged but also kid friendly festival atmosphere to make it a festival that won’t have many people saying no to.

This year they look to capitalise on the absense of T in the Park, albeit the Glasgow based replacement TRNSMT seems to have been a huge success, but not quite the same market as Electric Fields in aiming at.

This year’s headliners, the even dependable and super popular Frightened Rabbit will have everyone crying, cheering and singing along while Dizzee Rascal will almost undoubtedly bring the party closing Saturday night’s activities.

Add to that a stellar backing cast of superb acts that make up the mainstage stage and other stage headliner affairs; over the Atlantic Band of Horses would headline a festival of this size, while The Jesus and Mary and Arab Strap’s reputations are formidable.

Our ones to watch are coming from further down the bill looking at local up and comers and smaller touring acts.

Friday:

Marnie (Main Stage 16.15)

Glasgow based Helen Marnie may be better known for her work Liverpool electro-pop maestros Ladytron, but her solo work is every bit as glimmering. Her latest album Strange Words and Weird Wars is a breezy joy that thrills on a pop level without ever becoming too easy.

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Anna Meredith (Discover Stage 18.30)

Last years SAY Award winner is a special talent, the composer, performer and musician seem to emerge into the pop world out of the blue with her Varmints album last year, an all encompassing release that saw jazz and electronic sounds combined to make a record of bewildering propositions that is even better experienced in a live setting.

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And Yet It Moves (Redeemer Stage 19.00)

And Yet It Moves have been bubbling away for over a year now, evolving, engulfing and enhancing with each visit, they seem a different band at every visit. The now Berlin based band led by the powerful live presence of Dale Barclay are set to take the festival stage as their own, expect something haunting, something powerful, something that you won’t forget in a hurry.

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Modern Studies (Discover Stage 14.30)

Steeped in rural folk, chamber pop super group from Perthshire-via-Glasgow-via Yorkshire Modern Studies paint delicate experimental landscapes that hypnotise and engross. They’re a band that promise lots and seem set to deliver, Electric Fields may provide the stage their beautiful recorded music needs.

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Savage Mansion (Redeemer Stage 16.00)

One of the biggest prospects of Scottish guitar music at present Savage Mansion are band that individually have cut their teeth in a collection of impressive acts, but seem to have came together to create something that captures the moment with sultry beauty. The four-piece deliver fuzzy guitars, bouncy drums and catchy basslines coupled with Craig Angus’ (formerly of Poor Things) coolly delivered, conversational vocals that give an effortless pop aesthetic and chilled out reflection that recall the like of Parquet Courts and Mac DeMarco.

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Saturday

Aldous Harding (Discover Stage 15.15)

Compelling and theatrical New Zealander Aldous Harding has the sort of bewitching live show that will leave you lost for words. The recently signed to 4AD performer’s show can be as powerful as it is delicate, and her captivating charm and atmospheric tracks will be well worth getting along for.

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Sacred Paws (Main Stage 13.30)

Another SAY Award winner, this time the current holders Sacred Paws bring a fun energy to any stage, Rachel Aggs’ undeniable talent and unique tropical guitar sound has been a fixture of her work for years now and Sacred Paws are every bit as exciting as her other projects Shopping and Trash Kit. Add Eilidh Rodgers’ playful percussion and interweaving backing vocals, plus a touch of subtle brass you’ve got a band that can bring the sunshine to any festival.

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Whyte Horses (Main Stage 14.30)

Enigmatic psych group Whyte Horses have a eclectic array of influences, filtering through a modernist take of fuzzy tropical sounds, Krautrock vibes, 60s girl group pop, psychedelia and much more Whyte Horses present a spirally sound that will sending you away to dreamy hypnotic daze while having all the pop presence to keep the energy flowing. Initially imaged as the band to complete the catalogue of band leader Dom Thomas’ Finders Keepers label the band have evolved into something that simply can’t just remain a side project.

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Edwin Organ (Redeemer Stage 15.00)

Variation seems to be key to Edwin Organ’s game, still everything he touches seems to come out golden, his slick, but not unbearably polished production gives his head nodding organic left-field electronica. At points it’s super catchy at others a welcoming hug that fuses soul and jazz elements with obvious dance knowledge, expect to get lost in this one.

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Brat and the Bonemen (Discover Stage 12.00)

We don’t know much about these guys and have heard very little, but what we have heard for the Dumfries & Galloway based act suggests that they’ll be an explosive live act that expel a raucous distorted post punk energy that will be brimming with attitude.

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And some honourable mentions go to This Is The Kit, Skjor, Stillhound, Future Get Down.

And here’s some of the bigger acts on the bill that we think are definitely worth getting down for: Glass Animals, Real Estate, Foxygen, Nothing, Car Seat Headrest, Shogun, British Sea Power.

Modern Studies – Swell to Great [Song, by Toad]

Modern Studies recorded their debut album in a Perthshire studio named Pumpkinfield, and released it a few days before the annual harvest moon.

This sets the scene for a record steeped in rural folk, which paints lush landscapes of story and sound with its array of instrumentation, ranging from delicate arpeggios of harp to analogue synths and, most strikingly, a Victorian pedal harmonium.

Opening track, ‘Supercool’ leads us in with syncopated drumbeats and the harmonium’s carnivalesque dissonance, which soon smooth out underneath Emily Scott’s haunting vocals, joining a contrapuntal chorus of harp, cello and handclaps.

The harmonic cadence of Scott’s sweetly lilting voice and Rob St. John’s Lancastrian baritone, with its dark depths and resonant inflections of Ian Curtis, is best showcased on ‘Black Street’, where the sparsity of instrumental accompaniment and slow tempo echoes in form the desolate refrain, “so cold”.

‘Black Street’s image of “joined-up writing” takes me back to the title of the closing track of There Will Be Fireworks’ eponymous debut, and there’s a surprising consonance between these bands, with their willingness to experiment instrumentally, but also their borrowing from Scottish folktale, their channeling of rural melancholia that slips between minimalism and clattering musical rapture.

There is something of Mogwai in songs like ‘The Sea Horizon’, which has a relaxed, waltz-like feel, intertwining its prettily twanging guitar with the ambient sound of waves.

Indeed, Modern Studies’ songs bear a cinematic quality foregrounded in Scott’s lyrics, which, like a great Romantic poem, create meaning through evocative images borrowed from landscape and mythology.

On ‘Bottle Green’, Scott works in alliterative couplets, weaving an impressionistic mesh of visual memories: “that bottle green, the deepest dark / the swell of September, sparkling clean, up with the lark”.

The video for ‘Father is a Craftsman’ reflects this sense of cinematic impressionism, comprising of old-fashioned home videos from a bygone era, where images of caravan holidays and family outings to the seaside play out beneath flickers of static.

The band’s DIY, folk aesthetic is embodied in the interplay between narrative and poetic fragments, carried along by the intricate tributaries of its string and vocal melodies, which eventually soar out into oceans of sound: crashing drums, aching harmonium.

The standout track is ‘Bold Fisherman’, an ethereal folk ballad whose sorrowful melodies play out over a quiet bagpipe drone, which kindles a pastoral atmosphere suited to the chastely understated lyrics: “he took her by the lily-white hand”.

There is an ‘Auld Lang Syne’ vibe to this song, but it never feels gimmicky: as the band’s name implies, theirs is a modern, fresh approach to folk music.

Based in Glasgow-via-Yorkshire, the band are inspired by the hypnotically expansive and sometimes chilling soundscapes of the Highlands and Yorkshire moors as much as they are by comforting chamber pop, which indeed Glasgow has a knack for producing (Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura).

Swell to Great evokes a sense of hopeful growth, the transition from pastoral nostalgia to polished and contemporary indie folk, and with fellow Scottish artists such as Rachel Sermanni, Admiral Fallow, King Creosote and Emma Pollock successfully achieving something similar, it seems we can only be destined for more greatness.

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Words: Maria Sledmere