Release Date: May 13, 2016
Record label: Run for Cover Records
Hailing from Philadelphia, Modern Baseball are a four-piece that in just four years, have grown from an indie band with a cult following to a group that sells out shows across the world. Releasing Sports in 2012 and then signing to independent label Run For Cover Records for their 2014 effort You’re Gonna Miss It All, the band speak of young love, friendship and uncertain futures. Holy Ghost sees these themes return but with members Brendan Lukens and Jake Ewald opening up about their struggles with mental health and losing loved ones.
Modern Baseball's catalog of music has been more along the spunky indie/emo/punk line of things but I noticed a dramatic shift in last year's EP. There was something much more open, detailed and personal to their approach. This is echoed here on Holy Ghost which signals what seems to be a shift away from the candid humour of old and adopts a much more intimate tone of storytelling.
Holy Ghost wasn’t the easiest album to write for Modern Baseball. The young Philadelphia band's open-hearted songs about alienation and the pitfalls of melancholic angst have garnered them an incredibly devoted following. And rightfully so - there’s an authenticity and clarity to the themes they explore that is impossible to replicate, seeing as main songwriters Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens are pointedly direct about their gripes without ever undermining their attentive fans.
Pop-punk, with its goofy songs full of knob and poo gags, in which women (girlfriends, mothers, etc) are mostly depicted as sources of irritation, has long been the genre of choice for a certain type of adolescent male. However, Philadelphia’s Modern Baseball head the field of newer bands trying to take it somewhere deeper. With guitarists Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens splitting vocal duties, chugging guitars abound, but their third album addresses alternative young adulthood concerns including grief, depression and mental health.
It’s been a whirlwind few years for Modern Baseball. Born from the acoustic workings of Brendan Lukens and Jake Ewald, over the past half a decade the quartet have gone from strength-to-strength, earning themselves critical acclaim and a devoted fanbase to boot. Now, with their third record, they’re taking a bolder step. While there are the quieter, more introspective moments – the raw opening title track and mid-album highlight ‘Hiding’ stand out – their third album sees the band sounding that much more refined, that much bigger.
"I hate worrying about the future. "So sang Brendan Lukens on Modern Baseball's last record, You're Gonna Miss it All, a record that served as the indie-emo quartet's introduction to a fan base outside of Philadelphia's close-knit DIY scene. But while that record celebrated the kind of in-the-moment exuberance that typifies one's early 20s, its follow-up, Holy Ghost, finds the group's two songwriters — Lukens and singer-guitarist Jacob Ewald — grappling with what comes next.
Modern Baseball became a popular band writing songs about Facebook and Instagram and emulating the selective communication of those social media platforms: revealing personal minutiae without ever having to be vulnerable. Throughout 2012’s Sports and 2014's You’re Gonna Miss It All, Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens sang mostly about girls, social insecurity, and punk rock hypocrisy—nothing that the average person in their audience hadn’t experienced themselves. Since then, Modern Baseball have unexpectedly evolved into an important band.
This one is pretty deep... A record equally split between Brendan Lukens’ reflections on addiction and anxiety, and Jake Ewald’s odes to loss inspired by his grandfather’s passing, Modern Baseball’s third album cuts deeper than the Philly four-piece have dared venture before.The dweeb-core champs’ songs might as well come with a ‘kick me’ sign pinned to them, but the depth and quality of ‘Holy Ghost’ is an exercise in kicking back and refusing to be defeated. Just listen to the rousing defiance of ‘Just Another Face’ and try not to feel like you can overcome anything the big, bad world might throw at you.
“I can feel the need to change me from the inside,” Brendan Lukens utters on the closing track of Modern Baseball’s third and latest LP, Holy Ghost. It’s a poignant reflection on his — and by extension, the band’s — narrative over the last few years. In that span of time, the Maryland-born Philadelphia resident, who has always dealt with crippling depression and anxiety, sank into an ongoing series of struggles with mental health and substance abuse.
Philadelphia-based quartet Modern Baseball take a darker turn on their third LP, Holy Ghost. The amiable emo Pennsylvanians, led by co-frontmen Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, work to tone down the quirky humor and lovesick pop-punk of their earlier efforts, finding bigger fish to fry as they age into some of life's heavier trials. Themes of loss, depression, and loneliness are at the heart of Holy Ghost's 11 tracks which, in an intentional nod to OutKast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below album, are grouped by songwriter into two distinct sections.
The list of rock bands with multiple songwriters is massive. The list of rock bands with multiple frontmen is a bit shorter, but still boasts plenty of strong examples. Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens, the duo at the fore of Philadelphia outfit Modern Baseball, however, chose a different kind of double-fronted LP as the touchstone for their new record: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.
Modern Baseball are one of those groups which ended up as an honest-to-goodness band almost by accident. It began with a pair of teenage friends writing songs on acoustic guitars in a small town, before university allowed them to lay down their tracks in a proper recording studio for the first time. To make their first record, they brought in a pal on bass, and then a drummer, before being signed for their second LP of snotty pop-punk.
Bands with dual songwriters are a powder keg. Factor in ego, craft, and relationships, and it’s all but impossible to dovetail differing styles into something sonically, tonally, and thematically consistent. The boys of Philadelphia rock outfit Modern Baseball, however, make it look easy. Sure, Brendan Lukens’ voice is more nasal than Jake Ewald’s and his lyrics more rooted in the specifics of internet culture, but across two records, a couple EPs, and oodles of splits, the old friends find cohesion in their mutual laments.
Read any recent interview with Modern Baseball, or watch the documentary the band released charting the run up to and creation of their newest album, and the weight behind the words on Holy Ghost is exposed for all to hear. Falling in love and falling apart, faced with the loss of loved ones and struggling not to lose themselves, the 11 songs on this record are openly rooted in turmoil and confusion. Written in two halves (the first six tracks penned by Jake Ewald and the last five by Brendan Lukens), the album is a tempestuous storm of very real emotion, with the music as a means of expression for everything that couldn't quite be said any other way.
Pop-punk quartet Modern Baseball has long specialized in soundtracking the headlong rush of its members’ college years. But whereas second LP “You’re Gonna Miss It All” delivered Facebook rants from a self-pitying underclassman, “Holy Ghost” is the hard-charging graduation speech. Guitarists Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens split the writing duties, Ewald penning the first six cuts and Lukens the latter five, with each traveling unprecedentedly dark, personal ground.