Modern Studies' marvellous debut LP - Swell To Great - was, at heart, a celebration of analogue song-craft. This was evident from its title which referred to an organ stop of a Victorian harmonium.
That record seemed so singular that I feared it would be the group's only release. Fortunately, this welcome follow up builds impressively on the strong foundations of its predecessor to create an album that is every bit its equal whilst also being a bold step forward.
As with their debut, the recording venue is Pumkinfield in rural Perthshire, a property owned by band member Pete Harvey. This time around though the sound is elegantly enriched by the backing from a chamber orchestra. This expansion was made possible through the generous funding of a creative Scotland grant and the money has been well spent.
In many ways, 'Welcome Strangers' is an album of opposites. For instance, it explores the contrasts between earth and fire in the lead single Mud And Flame and in Horns And Trumpets, the instruments are respectively named to symbolize plenty and death.
There is also the complimentary disparity of the vocals with Rob St John's resonant baritone serving as a perfect foil to the high-pitched lightness of Emily Scott's pure voice.
Musically too the ten songs deal with diversity by confidently straddling a path between classicism and experimentation. Despite this, the tracks nevertheless remain accessible since , as St. John points out "There's always a pop song".
However, the tracks are unlikely to feature on many party mix tapes. Disco Session is a deliberately deceptive title in that the song's rhythms and references derive from nature rather than dance halls: "I hear the scrape of branches against my window, they're playing your tune.
Despite the skipping beats of Fast As Flows, the landscape the music conjures up is one you imagine to be veined by dark rivers rather than clear streams. In this song the band sound like a pastoral Portishead.
While the origins of the band's music is clearly founded on British folk traditions, we are uprooted from a familiar sonic world into more mysterious territory. In this respect the strangers welcomed in the album title may end up as future friends or turn out to be ghosts from the past.