The third studio LP from kosmische folk-rock four-piece Modern Studies opens with a photograph, and closes with a shape of light. In between what slowly develops is a heady, heartening album that charts love, loss and life, as the Glasgow-via-Lancashire group reflect on landscape, the elements, intimacy, distance, sunsets, moonlight, and the blues.
The Weight of the Sun sees principal songwriters Emily Scott and Rob St John further their warm, esoteric field studies with Pete Harvey and Joe Smillie, as previously reconnoitred on Swell To Great (2016) and Welcome Strangers (2018). Largely recorded at Harvey’s home-run studio Pumpkinfield in rural Perthshire, this third outing makes for a glorious compendium of haunted disco hallelujahs (‘Spaces’); mercurial krautrock chorales (‘Heavy Water’); cosmic pop adagios (‘Corridors’; ‘Back to the City’) and euphoric, resilient, anthems (‘The Blue of Distance’).
“I found that phrase, ‘The Blue of Distance’, through Rebecca Solnit,” says St John, who lives in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland. “She writes, ‘The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost’.” Those ever-shifting shades and shadows permeate on The Weight of the Sun: itshues of the sky and the ocean; of heartache and arteries; of absence and of everything. Blue is light-years away, and it’s painfully close, not least on the aching, ‘Northern Sky’-invoking gospel of ‘Shape of Light’ (“blue-blood tributaries just below the skin”). There are traces, bruises, wakes.
Welcome Strangers gently revelled under a ‘Young Sun’, but there’s a sense that the heavens are heavier this time around. Is The Weight of the Sun a meditation on time, on life, passing? Glasgow-based Scott acquiesces. “A lot of life was lived in the last two years,” she says. “Perhaps we’re showing a rawer, truer connection to things. I feel, and hope, when listening, that the overriding sense is joyful, though.” That sentiment strikes a chord with St John. “This is an attempt to weave something hopeful from it all.”
And so they do. The Weight of the Sun is uplifting, enlightening, and — on various occasions — eminently danceable. Smillie’s galloping percussion conjures a primal rodeo hoe-down on ‘Spaces’; there’s an insatiable bass groove on ‘Brother’ (“the ear finds what the eye avoids”); and even a hip-swaying high-noon undertow amid the dizzying psych-folk of ‘Photograph.’ It might well be heavy, it might well go down, there might well be darkness, but the sun also rises.
They are at once star-struck and down to earth — quite literally, on the latter front, as Harvey notes. The band, he says, delighted in seeking and appropriating “everything we could that would clang: garden implements, including rakes, shovels and hoes; fire extinguishers; and a pristine fire pit which made haunting bowed shimmers before being relegated to the garden.”
There is a strange familiarity, and a welcome strangeness, in the quiet alchemy of Modern Studies.
‘The Weight Of The Sun’ will be released on 8th May via Fire Records on LP and CD.
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