About halfway through “Note To Self,” the third track off Modern Baseball’s new album Holy Ghost, Jacob Ewald earnestly proclaims: “There will be no more fucking around today.” On this particular song it’s mostly about Ewald taking control of his life, but that line can be applied to the Philly quartet’s evolution as well. The band’s first two releases (Sports and You’re Gonna Miss It All) catapulted the band from humble beginnings into playing shows with punk stalwarts like The Wonder Years, The Menzingers, and Say Anything. This rise set them up as the premier band on Run For Cover’s roster. But there was also plenty of fucking around on those albums while they blurred the lines between pop-punk and emo. On Holy Ghost, there are no more assholes with iPhones or songs about Chloe’s Twitter handle. Rather, Modern Baseball’s third LP works as a split release – Ewald writing and leading the first six tracks while Brendan Lukens undertaking the last five. On the surface this may seem like a recipe for an uneven listening experience; however, Holy Ghost rolls through its eleven tracks beautifully while touching on topics like finding love, battling depression, fighting addiction, and coping with mental illness.
Holy Ghost is an emotional rollercoaster that dips into the first bend right from the opening track. We are introduced to a quiet echo that has Ewald recalling the dreams he’s been having of someone watching him, and this swells into the high-octane “Wedding Singer.” Most of Ewald’s songs finds him attempting to comprehend, process, and move on from the death of his grandfather. The striking “Everyday” tackles those thoughts alongside religion (or the lack thereof) as he tries to attach significance to these little memories. It’s the strongest song Ewald has written to date — the centerpiece of a collection of songs exploring what it’s like to be alone and longing for a connection.
That connection is discovered in the peppy “Mass.” Ewald has found love. The only problem is that love is hundreds of miles away while his band is out on the road. It’s a snappy break from the darker heavy hitters surrounding it. The aforementioned “Note To Self” features the most dynamic chorus on the LP while “Hiding” slowly builds into an eruption of full-band catharsis.
Holy Ghost transitions smoothly from Ewald’s side to Lukens’s, and these five songs total only twelves or so minutes. I think it’s best to view his side as one long song containing five acts on how to cope with and break down the stigma of mental health. It’s been well reported that Lukens was close to committing suicide until a random text from Ewald shook him out of it. Shortly after, an intervention from loved ones helped Lukens enter a five-week outpatient treatment program for his bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction. Immediately after that, Lukens wrote his half of Holy Ghost.
It’s no surprise that these five songs are the rawest, most personal tracks he’s ever written. The raucous “Breathing in Stereo” and incredibly catchy “Apple Cider I Don’t Mind” has Lukens dwelling on what “forever” means and how love is being expressed from him to others and vice versa. The last two tracks (“What If…” and “Just Another Face”) center around Lukens attempting to accept and love himself. And just like “Everyday” was the centerpiece of Ewald’s side, Holy Ghost’s closer showcases the very best of Lukens as a musician, and a human being, just trying to take life one day at a time. The soaring chorus reveals Lukens’ confidently telling himself, “I’m not just another face/I’m not just another name/Even if you can’t see it now/We’re proud of; what is to come, and you.”
It’s the kind of fist-pumping anthem that can unite and change lives.
When flipping from side A to side B, the listener will notice the differences between Ewald and Lukens’s writing styles. The former is more methodical and structured with the latter being prone to quick in-your-face bursts. But Holy Ghost also showcases why the two songwriters work so well together: the sincerity in each track and the shared feelings that intersect. Ewald’s doubts and Lukens’ battles help mold the album into a coherent experience. They’ve found joy within the pain. They may have once thought we were gonna miss it all, but Modern Baseball now understands that everything is just starting and it’s only gonna get better. Holy Ghost is a stunning, complex, emotionally draining and life-reaffirming album about overcoming whatever obstacles life throws your way and believing in a better tomorrow, or better yet, believing in yourself.