Philadelphia rock outfit Modern Baseball have been at the forefront of the new wave of emo for awhile now. Gone are the black eyeliner, striped shirts and skinny jeans so tight your sperm count went down that defined the genre back in the mid-2000s. Whereas during that era, when it came to the scene it was all about image (if you weren’t wearing a studded belt what were you doing with your life?). Modern Baseball could care less about all that, because they’re just like you in a way. They’re four mid-twenty somethings just trying to figure life out as they go, and it shows in their music. This sort of genuine, honest authenticity has earned them fans in the tens of thousands, and rightfully so. For their 3rd album Holy Ghost, they’ve taken a more mature approach to their songs and tackle more serious subject matter such as depression and family losses.
The album is split into two parts à la Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Singers Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, respectively, get about half the album each to vent what’s on their mind. The album begins with the eerily beautiful title track, which has Ewald looking for answers after his grandfather passed away during the making of the album. “He’s been haunting my dreams at night/I’ve been bleeding from tripping in the dark/trying to turn on the light … But this time my holy ghost is hovering over me/and I’m passed out on the floor,” he echoes over equally eerie distorted guitars. It’s a far cry from their usual plucky, dryly humorous version of emo. However, the very next song has them going back to their pop punk roots on “Wedding Singer,” which incorporates another addicitve riff to their growing catalog. The 4th track “Mass” has Ewald declaring his frustration over the absence of his significant other with uplifting guitars in the background. “My baby’s in Massachusetts/And all this booze is useless/Sunset sing my scratched out sighing soul to sleep,” he sings on the chorus. It’s classic MoBo: the ability to take stressful, unnerving uncertainty and angst and turn it into triumph that can make anyone who’s going through the same thing feel a little bit better.
In the middle of “Coding These to Lukens,” Ewald’s half of the album ends and we finally hear from Lukens. He’s been through quite the tumultuous odyssey the past year or so. In an interview with FADER Magazine, he opened up about his depression and self-harm past, and how he almost killed himself in August of last year. If it weren’t for a perfectly timed text from Ewald that snapped Lukens out of his suicidal haze, who knows what would’ve happened. We got glimpses of Lukens’ chilling past on their October 2015 release MoBo Presents: The Perfect Cast EP, but on Holy Ghost, we get more details. On the aforemention song “Coding These To Lukens,” Ewald and Lukens appear to be talking about the latter’s issues. “Maybe I’m out of touch,” Ewald says. “You tell me if I’m wrong/But you know I’m right.” Lukens then comes into the picture and fires back. “Spit fire/spit blood/spit fast/I’m heated,” he wails. “It must be one of you who keep pulling me aside/to chit chat about me, who I am, what the deal is with who I was once.” Lukens continues these perturbed themes on “What If…,” where he gut-wrenchingly sings “Please save my soul/I don’t know what I’m doing anymore”; the pain in his voice clearly audible in the last syllable.
The album closes with “Just Another Face,” a track that chronicles Lukens’ history with depression. “I’m a waste of time and space/Drifting through my selfish ways/I don’t know how I got here,” he begins. When the pre-chorus hits, Lukens admits that he needs to get help, and with the chorus we find him accepting that he’s got a problem and realizing his self-worth. “If it’s all the same, it’s time to confront this face to face … I’m not just another face, I’m not just another name,” he proudly exclaims.
In an interview with Bandcamp, Lukens expressed his discomfort with the image that some poeple place on the group in regards to their lyrics. “A lot of people, when they look at us, they see us as a punk band who throws humor into their songs,” he said. “And I feel like, as we’ve grown, and especially with this record, we can understand the humor in things, but we don’t always need to mention it.” You can throw that image out the window with Holy Ghost. This is an album that shows progression in an alt-rock world where progression can be hard to find. Whereas their last album “You’re Going To Miss It All” was more poppy, this project is a tad more rougher in terms of sound, especially Lukens’ half. However, it works fittingly with what the band has gone through since YGTMIA. And even with the more rugged sound, the album still has its fair share of hooks and choruses that will no doubt be screamed back at the band at a venue near you.
The cover of the album has Lukens holding a camcorder with Ewald standing right behind him, both smiling while appearing to be capturing what’s in front of them. Being that the album was dubbed a timestamp for the past two years, the cover perhaps represents the journey and all the lows that the Philly band have experienced and their willingness to record it all and put onto this album. But hey, at least they’re smiling.