By Isaiah Houghton
Pennsylvanian rock band Modern Baseball have released their third studio album, “Holy Ghost,” an eclectic record featuring influences from emo, pop rock, punk, indie, and no shortage of self deprecating lyrics that should sound familiar to fans of the band. The record sports a curious halfway split by the songwriters, with the first six tracks being written and sung by Jake Ewald, and the last five tracks being written and sung by Brendan Lukens. Such a split is evocative of the seminal Outkast record Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, but unlike the celebrated hip hop album, the creative differences between the two frontmen of Modern Baseball are not conspicuously disparate. A casual listener could be forgiven for not recognizing the split, or even realizing that the group has more than one vocalist. Despite this, if the listener is willing to take a deeper look into the record, they may find something interesting beneath the surface.
Ewald’s side leans towards more compositionally and lyrically complex songs with a range of feelings, from the rollicking yet despondent album opener “Wedding Singer,” the energetic yet world-weary “Mass,” and the regretful yet ultimately hopeful “Hiding.” Ewald’s lyrics are multifaceted and often open to interpretation, yet maintaining Modern Baseball’s signature depressing aesthetic. For instance, lines like “When every second of sun’s the same, what’s the point of staying awake?” on “Note To Self” or “Still some nights I find, the ideas that bring me rest, are the ones that used to prod and pester and keep me up, Swinging open doors I swore I’d shut” on “Hiding” give insight to the album’s aesthetic. The weakness of this side is highlighted in the song “Everyday,” a drained, limp track which meanders too much for it’s own good. On the whole, Ewald crafts songs with impressive composition for a modern emo band, but can lack the emphatic oomph that many know the band for.
Luken’s side, on the other hand, is often defined by inverse strengths and weaknesses. One thing that there is no shortage of here is energy, with songs often exploding into frenzied choruses shouted at the top of Luken’s lungs. “Breathing in Stereo” is a feverish, driving track featuring cluttered and oftentimes heartbreaking sentiments, with lines like “Planning our future without you, without me at times.” It eventually slows down into a hectic, scattered, yet optimistic singalong chorus, ending the track strong. The album closer “Just Another Face” moves past the permeating self pity of the record, with the narrator learning to move past their hang-ups with the help of others, leading to an unabashedly hopeful message of getting better.
Such a message makes sense when one looks at Modern Baseball’s recent history. In the Fall of last year, Brendan Lukens went to rehab and was diagnosed with, among other things, manic depression. The band has since become advocates for mental health issues, including encouraging medical treatment for mental illness. It seems that in the face of such adversity, the band has matured, and it shows in their new music. The lyrics show more mutual understanding with other human beings as well as more responsibility for the bad decisions that Modern Baseball glorify in their songs. Coupled with studio mixing for this album, which is a first for the band, it seems that Modern Baseball is coming into their own, artistically and otherwise.
Overall, Holy Ghost goes above and beyond expectations for a modern emo record, a genre that has become noticeably stagnant in recent years. Unfortunately, the album does not innovate enough to make it truly remarkable or memorable. In a genre that can feel like once you’ve heard a single record, you’ve heard them all, the album does nothing to try and bring in new listeners or diversify the sound. A fan of the genre will certainly appreciate the record, and this may be one of the better jumping off points for those interested in modern emo, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the album to everyone.
Favorite Tracks: Wedding Singer, Mass, Hiding, Breathing in Stereo, Just Another Face
Least Favorite Tracks: Note To Self, Everyday, What If…
Holy Ghost is available for free streaming and a five dollar download here.