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Friday, June 10, 2016

With 'Holy Ghost,' Emo Rockers Modern Baseball Deliver Their Most Mature Album to Date

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Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 11:49 AM

click to enlarge JESSICA FLYNN
  • Jessica Flynn
“We all kind of had to be grown ups without really realizing it,” says Jake Ewald, co-singer/songwriter of Philly emo quartet Modern Baseball, referring to how the band’s meteoric rise to indie stardom over the past few years has affected how its still relatively young members have aged. “Realizing how many people were listening to us … We’re just like 22 years old, looking around and it’s like ‘What’s going on?’”

Indeed, Modern Baseball has represented “college rock” in a more literal sense throughout most of its career — its open, honest lyrical content providing a window into the collective soul of university-going millennials everywhere. Their first two full-length efforts, Sports and You’re Gonna Miss It All, launched the band from the world of DIY house shows and free Bandcamp downloads to indie punk stalwart Run For Cover Records where it received praise from the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and even The New York Times. Not bad for a bunch of kids just getting used to post-grad life.

Perhaps it’s because of all this success that their third LP, Holy Ghost, which came out last month, sounds more carefully constructed than the rest of their catalog. To a certain degree, Ewald seems to think so.

“We realized how many people were listening to the band and how many people we were influencing,” he says, “and the weight that our words held in reality that we just thought was never there before.”

As a result, the lyrical content on Holy Ghost feels more thought-out and mature than previous releases while still maintaining the dry, ironic edge both Ewald and his songwriting counterpart Brendan Lukens have made themselves known. 

Ewald’s side of the record highlights this development perfectly. Tracks like “Note To Self” and “Everyday” take way longer to unfold than what many fans may be used to hearing, every word hung upon as the song steadily builds further and further towards an emotional crescendo. “Mass,” however, upholds the other end of the spectrum much to the delight of those who enjoy the band’s older work — clocking in at under two minutes and chock-full of one liners like “Bury me beneath New York state/It’s the only place where I feel dead.”

Another change worth noting is how Ewald and Lukens gave themselves their own separate halves of the album this time around, instead of placing their songs side by side on the tracklist as they have in the past. From a listener’s perspective, this speaks to how distinct the pair’s songwriting styles have become as of late, and Ewald himself agrees.

“We kind of had our own little worlds to work in,” he says of what separated them during the writing process this time around. “Bren’s songs are a lot heavier, and my songs are a lot more — less [heavy], I guess.” In a way, this too serves to represent how the band has grown up over the years. According to Ewald, in the past many new listeners couldn’t tell his and Lukens’s voices apart, let alone the way their songs sounded. On Holy Ghost, their paths are starting to diverge a bit.

However, for Modern Baseball, growing up doesn’t necessarily mean growing apart — regardless of how Ewald and Lukens are maturing as musicians. In fact, even after years of relentless touring, the band is excited to be back on the road again this summer supporting the new record. The Holy Ghost Tour, which includes support from Joyce Manor and Thin Lips, rolls through the Agora on June 18. The band’s fans are so enthusiastic that Ewald says the group has taken extra measures to ensure that things go smoothly.

“As the shows have gotten bigger,” he says, “for some reason we have more and more people coming up to us after the show or tweeting at us or something saying ‘I had a really great time, but this guy behind me was grabbing my ass the whole time,’ or ‘I had a really great time, but I got kicked in the face ten times in a row.’”

After a while, the frequency of these incidents started to become upsetting to the band. They decided to try something they’d seen other indie groups of their popularity implement before: A special hotline that show-goers can use if they’re feeling unsafe.

“We’re still figuring out how to make it work the best,” Ewald says, “[but] it feels good to be trying it at least.” He agrees that after transitioning from smaller, more intimate venues to bigger stages over the past few years, it’s easy to not feel as in control of what’s happening in the crowd — but hopes that not much else has to change. After all, growing up is something we all have to do at some point, but keeping intact the things that kept you going in your younger days is essential to the process.

It’s safe to say that Modern Baseball, after putting out a record that feels fresh and mature while still maintaining their trademark sense of personality, are doing a pretty good job of figuring it all out.


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