|Image Credit: Melanie Levi Flickr|
Artist: Modern Baseball
Album: Holy Ghost
Record Label: Big Scary Monsters
Release Date: 12th May 2016
Emotion is an ambiguous and sometimes disingenuous word. Without wanting to prescribe to an over-analytical, hyperbole-ridden mindset that descends from post-modernism, it’s a word that is often contorted to fit a purview, or enhanced given a particular circumstance. It is, however, quite often easy to tell when emotion is genuine, and on their 3rd full-length Holy Ghost Philadelphia quartet Modern Baseball have certainly tugged on their own heart-strings.
An album which revels in guilt, morbidity and eventually hope, Holy Ghost is a tale of two halves. The first was penned by guitarist Jake Ewald, and the second by fellow guitarist and vocalist Brendan Lukens. Throughout these songs the lyrics run the ringer through themes of giving up, loss and distance, tensions between the band members (sometimes exacted in a fiery manner, as on ‘Note To Self’), depression and both the strains and promise of being a band on the rise.
Musically it would be easy for one to sit here and trace Modern Baseball’s lineage back. Certainly this is an album in awe to early ‘90s emo and alt-rock heritage, but its sense of melody and fire-in-the-gut pace carries it through with a grace that means it doesn’t remind necessarily remind one of how great Rites Of Spring were. It’s always nice when a band take a formula and manage not to re-arrange it but to produce songs and melodies that hit home in terms of their memorability and impact, and for the most part Holy Ghost achieves that in abundance.
It’s the aforementioned lyrical matter that sits at the heart of the record though, meaning that even though investment in a certain amount of emotional tangibility might be required on behalf of the listener, if it strikes one as resonant then it can be completely consuming. “All I found were empty cans and cigarette butts lying in dirty parking lots in Ottawa”, intones Lukens on ‘Note To Self’, before asserting that “pretending we feel safe right now gets harder every day”. The more blood-quickening ‘Mass’ is more direct in its approach to feelings of loneliness and distance from loved ones, and Ewald’s poetic tendencies are at their most forthright on the gorgeous ‘Everyday’; “You need to hide, it’s in your framework, look me in the eyes and tell me I don’t know how shame works”.
‘Breathing In Stereo’ in the record’s latter half is a near-perfect, short, sharp encapsulation of all the disconnection, desperation & hope felt in the given circumstances- “Why does it take 2000 miles for me to say I love you?” delivers Lukens with a rawness in his voice. The progression and recovery becomes most fervent on the final tracks, the excellent ‘What if’ ending in a righteously bouncy discussion of the future, and closer ‘Just Another Face’ will likely be empowering to anyone affected by mental health issues in any way.
It’s a testament to just how intrinsic a narrative Holy Ghost is for the band that it ends on a high note. The documentary they released to accompany the record, Tripping In The Dark, shows the full extent to how heartfelt the band’s journey has been, and the time and detail invested in the story telling on the 11 tracks here is the sort that can only be informed by actual experiences. As is so often the case with decent revivalist records in recent years, naysayers will likely chuck the “overly emotional” tag at this and leave it. Fine; this is a record which succeeds on the basis of its personal delivery and feeling, and for those who can tap into that it’s a total reward.
Key Tracks: 'Everyday', 'Breathing In Stereo', 'Just Another Face'
For Fans Of: Basement, The Wonder Years