[Review] Modern Baseball’s “Holy Ghost”: An Abundance of Feelings, A Plethora of Hearts

Ezzat Kemal Zulkarnain

For the many, many times people have asked me about what is it I am looking for in the music I listen to, I have always managed to answer with the only two words I see fitting: honesty and relatability; the latter serving as a dessert to the former, which I see as the main course that should always be cooked with zero pretense.

Some time during the summer of 2012, I discovered “Couples Therapy,” a five-tracked split album between the recently disbanded four-piece emo outfit from Philadelphia, Marietta, and their fellow townsmen consisting of two high school friends who particularly liked sports, Modern Baseball. I had never heard of both of them but I thought screw it, I’ll give it a try, it’s free anyway and that was it. I expected nothing, nor was I prepared for anything, but then I knew I have found my new favorite restaurant in town I could visit 24/7 and still not feel sick of eating the same food over and over again.

The said restaurant goes by the name of Modern Baseball; and on May 13th 2016, after they had released a brand new set of menu, “Holy Ghost,” I (and surely, surely a whole bunch of other people) could not help but to fall even deeper for them.

**

As a band growing up in basement shows, being a part of the fascinating, ever-growing D.I.Y scene of Philadelphia is undoubtedly one of the many other blessings Modern Baseball have had in their run so far. Sharing stages with the likes of Ma Jolie, the post-punk giant; The Menzingers, an indie-rock role model; and, of course, one of the biggest names in the midwest’s post-hardcore line up, The Wonder Years, the music that Modern Baseball produce have always been richly influenced by those they play with. By playing a style of music that expand somewhere in the line between pop-punk and emo–a universal laughing stock for many people–they have created something fresh and intimate; something vital that the revamped the face of independent music scene not only in Philadelphia, but also across the country, continent, and ultimately all around the globe.

Picking up where they left off “You’re Gonna Miss It All,” their second full-length, “Holy Ghost” is Modern Baseball’s game plan for another home run; but this time, they are taking to the field quite differently. Compared to their previous releases, “The Nameless Ranger,” “Sports,” “You’re Gonna Miss It All,” and “The Perfect Cast,” “Holy Ghost” explores subjects further than emo’s stereotypical themes–opposite-sex inflected emotional wounds, figurative revenge, and self-loathing–to go face-to-face with more grown-up concerns, namely loss and mental illness. Both of the band’s songwriters, Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, had to confront their own issues prior to recording the album. The death of his influential grandfather certainly affected and created havoc inside Ewald and his religious family; while Lukens had to overcome his alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety disorder, and bipolar condition–which almost caused him to jump off the roof of his apartment–through medicine and therapy sessions. The album, featuring 11 songs while still clocking in just under 30 minutes, reflects on the recent journey and experience of both Ewald in Side A, and Lukens in Side B–both side as emotional as the other.

**

“Holy Ghost” opens with Ewald’s set of bold statement in “Holy Ghost” and “Wedding Singer.” In writing the former, Ewald showcases his sense of poetic consciousness as he had shown in the band’s previous numbers like “Pothole” and “I Think You Were In My Profile Picture Once.” Retelling the personal story about how having to overcome his grandfather’s tragic death had moved him, the album’s sole acoustic track still feels surprisingly intriguing despite the rather finite and restricted theme. Overlapping the outro of “Holy Ghost” is “Wedding Singer,” the more elaborate, plugged-in rendition to its preceding song, and notably the most MoBo-esque song in the album–lively metaphors, sweeping sentences, romantically staged series of words, accompanied with four-chorded catchy riffs throughout the song, making it an instant addition to your midnight drives or walks playlist.

While the first two songs set the overall tone of Ewald’s side of the album, the next one; “Note To Self” attempts to bridge the slight shifting of theme in this side. Still equipped with lyrics of romanticised loss, the song refamiliarises the listeners to the usual MoBo fuzzy-toned guitars and unevenly split choruses. Following it are a triplet of “Mass,” “Everyday,” and “Hiding,” acting not only as the last few yards of Ewald’s run but also as a reminder of the fact that what the listeners are being exposed to is an actual Modern Baseball record–glorifying heartbreaks and adolescence uncertainties.

Now, then, into the very distinctively written and performed Side B.

Contrasting to the other side where Ewald arranges the flow of the songs to gradually shifts in theme while still maintaining a constant rhythm throughout them, Lukens’ side have that sense where all five songs feel much more like a unison rather than several individual tracks. The side kicks-off with “Coding These To Lukens,” an under two minutes message hinting the listeners about what this side is going to hit them with–change of pace, self-narration, and in general a sight of what is going on inside Lukens’ head. It is worth mentioning that there is an impression of the post-therapy Lukens trying to talk and give hopes of survival to his old self in the lyrics of the duration of Side B. The song is then followed by “Breathing In Stereo,” yet another under two minutes song with very dynamic progression including breakdowns and guitar riffs similar to those often featured in songs with emo-violence genre. Since the first listen, I could not help thinking that this is how the inside of his head would look like translated into lyrics and music­–exceptionally fluctuative.

The third and the fourth song of this side, “Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind” and “What If…” talk about his confusion of what is true and what is not and also sudden realization about things that did not work as planned, hitting him in places he did not expected. Both songs are very angstily and emotionally sung in addition to it being maturely written, unlike his previous songs which had a typical whiny vocals.

“Just Another Face,” the side’s fifth and last track, is a perfect conclusion to the album. Highlighting self-reassurement in confronting matters that seem to devour on Lukens’ anxiety and fear, it is arguably his most complex and heartwarming song to date. There is a strong sense of him trying to pull himself together and not surrender to what he was facing. As soon as the first line of the chorus that goes “I’ll be with you the whole way; it’ll take time, that’s fact” is sung, I knew I was in for a treat. It is safe to say that this song stole not only my attention but also the album; making Lukens’ side finally finish above Ewald’s.

**

“Holy Ghost” is a flawless example of how far honesty can take you in music and Modern Baseball is the unimpaired messenger to it. Their ability to bounce back from situations is another prove that they are not just another face and another name. They are one of if not the most honest band I have ever come across and this album is their latest evidence to the claim. “You’re Gonna Miss It All” might be a home run, but “Holy Ghost” is an out-of-the-park grand slam making them one of the greats.

References:

  • “Holy Ghost” (the album) by Modern Baseball
  • Tripping In The Dark: A Modern Baseball Documentary

Word count: 1259 word

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