Review: ‘Holy Ghost’ Is Modern Baseball at Their Best

Posted 1 year ago by Joel Funk

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What can I say about this Modern Baseball record that hasn’t already been expressed through a handful of tweets from Thomas Nassiff, Ian Cohen, or James Cassar? The answer comes with a sigh, but I’m not totally sure. I’ve talked about feeling like I’ve grown up alongside bands — a Facebook status from five years ago will show you that I felt this way about blink-182 when ‘Neighborhoods’ was released (yikes!!), but it feels different with ‘Holy Ghost.’

When I professed that I felt like I’d grown up alongside blink-182, it was because their discography evolved from dick jokes to something a little more somber. When I tell you that I feel like I’ve grown up alongside Modern Baseball, I mean that I’ve grown as a person from when I was nineteen and listening to “Tears Over Beers” for the first time, and if all of the promo around this record has told us anything, it’s that Modern Baseball has done the same. The songwriting on ‘Holy Ghost’ is notably void of the witty punchlines that we grew to expect thanks to ‘Sports’ and ‘You’re Gonna Miss It All.’

We got a brief taste of this on ‘The Perfect Cast’ last October, but even in the short time from that release to now, Modern Baseball feels like they’ve grown and are at the top of their game. Lyrically, ‘Holy Ghost’ is incredibly introspective and sees Jake and Bren confronting their innermost demons on their respective halves of the album. We see Jake coming to terms with the loss of grandfather and Bren coping with bipolar disorder and treatment that stemmed from a face-to-face with thoughts of suicide. The two subjects are notably different but fit perfectly alongside each other to create a listening experience that is incredibly cohesive and is sure to win over naysayers past.

Jake’s half of the record opens with the album’s namesake; a song that was clearly written for and about his Grandfather (He’s been haunting my dreams at night/I’ve been bleeding from tripping in the dark/trying to turn on the light) and flows effortlessly into “Wedding Singer.” The latter of the two is a song that feels huge and important — and more importantly, it feels like a song we couldn’t have expected from this band two years ago. There’s an organ swell in the chorus of the song and I am such a sucker for the organ. It feels holy and adds a warmth to a track that’s impossible to replicate.

This made it neck and neck with the fan-favorite (and rightfully so) track, “Mass.” The song has a very personal nature to it, from the tone down to the vivid detail used in the lyrics. There’s something about the laser accuracy of these lyrics that makes the song feel approachable as opposed to a journal entry. The songwriting puts you into the place of the author, and you feel like they’ve welcomed you into experiencing what would normally be a private piece of their life. It doesn’t hurt that you can’t help but sing along to “My baby’s in Massachusetts.” It’s the delivery and brevity of “Mass” really allows it to soar.  

These songs are incredible,and while I do enjoy them, I find myself wanting to listen to Bren’s half of the record first each and every time I put it on.

While it may not be the first song on his half of the record, “Breathing In Stereo” is the song that I always jump to. The energy of the music itself and the feelings of desperation, anxiety, and yearning all bunched together into that first delivery of “I can’t help thinking about you this whole ride home/From Alberta to Portland/or wherever I’ll unfold” was and still is enough to give me goosebumps.

And then there’s “Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind.” This song has such strong The Cure vibes and the more I listen to it the more I fall in love. It perfectly captures the essence of the back half of ‘Holy Ghost’ in that it’s not too frantic, and it’s not too desperate. It’s a balancing act that pays off well, especially before we make it to the album’s coup de gras, the payoff, the final blow — “Just Another Face.”

In an interview with James Shotwell on the Inside Music Podcast, Bren says that he had a lot that he was trying to say with “Just Another Face,” and that’s part of the reason that the rest of the songs are these bereft in comparison. The songs leading up to now are brief pauses, scenes that we’re allowed to see from the outside looking in whereas “Just Another Face” is this tremendous and inspired rally. A mantra for positive mental health that allows us to see both sides of Bren — when he’s high and when he’s low. It shows us that one side is not more or less than Bren, but they’re pieces that work in tandem. This was the perfect ending for this album — a true moment of empowerment that is sure to leave listeners in awe.

‘Holy Ghost’ is Modern Baseball at their best. This is something that I have no doubt that I will be able to say when I wrap listening to every Modern Baseball record from this point out. I am in love with ‘Holy Ghost.’ You are probably in love with ‘Holy Ghost.’

Whatever, forever.