Published May 11, 2016"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.
Splitting the record in half, Ewald's more esoteric songs of love ("Mass") and loss ("Wedding Singer") occupy its front end while Lukens stakes out the latter half, where he confronts the depression and substance abuse that almost consumed him in 2015. The record was recorded days after he was released from a treatment facility, and the ragged, frayed edges of the songs are indication of their provenance.
The two musicians' differing worldviews are united here by beefed up production, courtesy of Hop Along's Joe Reinhart, and the existential angst that has been their hallmark since their 2012 debut, Sports. But where that anxiety previously manifested itself in handwringing over girls, here it's more concerned with the void of adulthood. Gone is the goofy playfulness, replaced with the sense that there's more to the world than their insular South Philly/Drexel University bubble — and that world is a little bit frightening.
Such a drastic shift in tone could undo a lesser group, but Modern Baseball were always wiser than a surface reading would suggest. Though Ewald and Lukens no longer write about the politics of their social scene, the desire to make sense of what's happening around them remains central to both of their contributions. They also know how to write a hook; although the details have changed, the slightly more grown up Modern Baseball remain experts at penning anthems of millennial malaise.
Rather than sticking with what worked before, Modern Baseball's two songwriters have pushed the band forward here, keeping their music in line with their rapidly maturing outlook. Although it offers no clues as to what the future holds, Holy Ghost confronts some of its tougher questions. (Run For Cover)