Album Review: Modern Baseball, ‘Holy Ghost’

Written By Erin Mathis


It’s been two years since Modern Baseball’s last studio album You’re Gonna Miss It All, which gave fans new favorite songs like “Fine, Great”, and of course “Your Graduation”. And the success that the Philadelphia-based band has accrued over the past few years has been astounding. From sold out shows, to thousands of record sales, to even a recent write up in the New York Times, MoBo has brought emo music back into focus for old fans of the genre, while at the same time introducing it to a new generation of music-lovers. Their music doesn’t just entertain; it inspires, it heals, it puts lumps in your throat — and it’s about time we got to hear some more of it.

On March 3rd of this year, the band teased fans with two new songs: “Everyday”, written by Jake Ewald, and “Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind”, written by Brendan Lukens. Ewald’s song has a dark and serious tone with a MoBo trademark abrupt ending, while Lukens’ is one that deals with the confusion of love — asking questions like “Did you ever love me?” and “You think we can make it?”. Little did fans know that this two-song sampling would be reflective of the upcoming two-part album, Holy Ghost, as Ewald wrote the album’s six-track A-side, while Brendan Lukens was responsible for the five songs on the reverse.

So let’s talk favorites: Ewald’s “Wedding Singer” is a clear stand out, as it’s fast paced and features sections of catchy electric guitar melodies. The band must have predicted their fans’ love for this track, as they recently put out a music video for it, one with a surprising jump in production value compared to their earlier stuff. Also, “Mass” has a true pop-punk sound with guitar riffs and backing vocals, and is about the pain of missing a girl while away on tour. The lyrics are unapologetically honest, and at one point Ewald veers away from singing, and in a most straightforward way, simply speaks his lyrics: “Sometimes I wish it was still last summer / And you still lived in South Philly /And I wasn’t playing a show in Nebraska / Or Austin, Texas / Asking the kids what they ate for breakfast.”

Next, it’s impossible to discuss Brendan Luken’s side of the album without mentioning the realities which led to these songs being written. In August of 2015, Lukens entered a five-week outpatient treatment program for his alcohol addiction and bipolar disorder. And though many might argue for separation between art and artist, for Modern Baseball, there is no separation. The band makes an intense effort to be as transparent with, and close to, their fans as possible, and even released a short documentary (Tripping in the Dark) in early April to share the story of the band’s formation, and also reveal their recent personal struggles.

Luken’s doesn’t provide a soft introduction for his section, but jumps right into it, with the first song, “Coding these to Lukens”, being a loud, angry song in which he shows the dark side of his disorder. “Spit fire, spit blood, spit fast–I’m heated,” he sings, recalling times when he lashed out at those who were concerned for his mental health. “What if…” is a song about self-contemplation and a push for self-betterment, as he sings about seeking out the fraud within himself. Finally, “Just Another Face”, the album closer, is arguably the most emotional song out of the eleven. It starts out with a numb feeling, as Lukens’ exhausted voice depicts the empty fog of depression: “I’m a waste of time and space / drifting through my selfish ways”. However, he recognizes that he needs to undergo a change, and is encouraged to get help by those who will support him “the whole way”. The song ends with a finale of guitar feedback that comes to a fading close, leaving listeners with a moment to process the weight of Luken’s words and gather hope for his recovery process.

Fans might note that Holy Ghost is devoid of the sarcasm or wit that we’ve grown to expect from Modern Baseball, but in all honesty, this album didn’t need any of that, and if the boys did try to put humor in it to please their fans, it would have felt forced and out of place. This album was about grief and rebuilding from that grief. Both Ewald and Lukens needed to delve into their emotions wholly and independently, in order to bring their truths forward and make a cohesive piece of complete honesty. From their documentary to the naming of specific people and places in their lyrics, there is no hiding on this record. Modern Baseball delivers their most authentic album yet, and I can’t wait until they come to my state so I can witness their rawness live and on stage.

Rating 10 out of 10