Take Me to The Trees
Reviewed by: Ziggy Merritt
While most might only box them in the critically derisive label of “one-hit wonder”, Modern English has always been anything but throughout the near 40-year old history of the band. “I Melt With You” was one of the first hits the then-emergent label of 4AD could lay claim to from the band’s sophomore release, After the Snow, but continued success followed the outfit up until their first breakup in 1987. Now with close to 30 years separating their last proper release with most of the original lineup, Modern English’s latest effort, Take Me to the Trees, picks up the threads they left behind.
The album is a return to form despite the gap in time, picking at the pop structures that defined their seminal years and layering in an ample dose of post-punk. There’s a vigor here pleasantly unbecoming of a band with this much history behind them. But there was always a lot to prove in this comeback with the funds for the album coming from a successful PledgeMusic campaign.
That investment in this album’s creation paid off with much of the back half pulling the weight here. “I Feel Small” is one of those standouts, putting out a sunny disposition backed by rambling percussive notes and guitar all layered with a warm breeze of light synth. “Come Out of Your Hole” and “Flood of Light” additionally give weight to the edge of depression that is easy enough to infer from the sincerity of the album’s lyrics. The latter ends up as one of the better produced tracks here, with the expressive bass of Mick Conroy owing to its well-paced structure.
Yet that very production ends up being one of Take Me to the Trees’ detriments. Missing are the new wave atmospherics and harmonics that so defined their previous efforts. Here those elements are stripped down, often obscuring the vocals of frontman Robbie Grey behind a jagged wall of guitar and bass. “Sweet Revenge” ends up as one of the biggest culprits in that respect as it continually cuts off the refrain. Somewhat minor inconsistencies in both this and the blending of each part eventually add up. Yet through it all this lineup of Modern English manages to make an album true to themselves in every respect, never once giving up the ghost of who they were and who they are.