Modern Baseball ‘Holy Ghost’ – Review

30 May

You’ll often hear the phrase ‘rock music is dead’ but the pervayours of this theory are usually snobbish hipsters who ignore rock groups that don’t appeal to a hip demographic. For example, The 1975 (a huge and brilliant rock band) are routinely dismissed because they appeal to teenage girls. It’s a similar prejudice that makes Modern Baseball one of the most criminally overlooked bands out there – ignored because they pitch themselves to an emo/pop-punk fan base. However, as anyone who has been to a MOBO show will know – rock music is popular and very much alive and thriving. in ‘Holy Ghost’ Modern Baseball have created the most vital guitar record of the year so far and to ignore it would be folly indeed.

Modern Baseball have built a career around the mantra ‘whatever, forever’, their memorable lyric from 2014’s ‘Rock Bottom’. It appears on t-shirts, accompanies Instagram posts and has generally caught the imagination of their fans. But this humorous aside masks the fact that modern Baseball actually care a great deal. Their humour and slacker style can be deceptive, and hides the aching sincerity just beneath the surface. Although usually centring discussions around girls and a lack of romantic success, their songs have contained thoughtful examinations of 21st century couple politics, social media interactions and young adulthood anxieties. ‘You’re Gonna Miss it All’ was one of the catchiest and funniest guitar albums of recent years. ‘Holy Ghost’ sees them ditching the sarcasm, the puns and the snarl; to use a cliched adjective, it is utterly raw, often uncomfortably so.

The record dramatically broadens the band’s horizons by expanding upon their musical ambitions and broadening lyrical themes. The record deals with Jake Ewald’s grandfather’s death and Brandon Lukens’ battle with depression, substances and self-harm. As a consequence of their being on the road, many of the songs also deal with being away from your loved ones at the time you need them most. We also hear the band struggle with faith, social insecurity, emotional honesty and most memorably, brotherhood and survival. It’s heavy stuff that is dealt with smartly. The record speeds by like a bullet (Lukens’ half passes by in just over ten minutes) so there isn’t really time to dwell on the weighty subject matter initially, it takes multiple listens for everything to sink in.

On ‘Sports’ and ‘You’re Gonna Miss It All’ the band would generally bounce from a Brandon song to a Jake song and back again, but this time around the record is very strictly divided between the two. Side A belongs to Jake, side B belongs to Brandon. It’s an unusual strategy that is undeniably awkward (the only modern president I can think of for that is Outkast’s ‘Speakerboxxx/ the Love Love Below’). But the decision was no doubt necessary as the two songwriters have evolved in quite different ways. Jake’s music has grown more sophisticated, ambitious and indie rock orintated. Brandon’s songs on the other hand are, if anything, shorter and more sneering that they’ve ever been. He no longer laces his emo sentiments with humour and his melodies are more acidic, his singing more fractured.

On ‘What If’ Brandon sings ‘Please save my soul, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore’. His voice trembles as he audibly comes undone. You’ll rarely, if ever, hear a singer who’s prepared to present themselves in such a vulnerable state. There is still tremendous power in music that is this blunt, this frantic and this uncensored. These songs were written over a single weekend, most don’t play by the traditional pop song verse/chorus structural rules, and the band probably didn’t waste too much time trying to get the perfect take. These tracks are the direct product of intense passion.

There is a moment on ‘Breathing in Stereo’ where Brandon quivers as he sings ‘I’m not the same as I was but that’s cool, whatever’. The nonchalance is briefly back with a sting. But along with it are the self assured words of a man coming to terms with himself. Because although Modern Baseball evidently do care a great deal, they also realise that it’s important not to over-invest. You can get caught up in the things Modern Baseball spend a lot of time thinking about – the past, social media, other people’s perceptions, expectations etc- but at the end of the day the only person you have to answer to is yourself. You can’t control how others view you. ‘Holy Ghost’ is often dark and uncomfortable but the ultimate message is one of hope and survival that comes from within, with the help of people who truly love you. Whatever forever.

9/10

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