While some bands in the emo scene have built a following by constructing atmospheric scenarios based on a single emotional stumbling point they have such a hard time getting past that they reword it so many times that it fills five and a half minutes of twinkly guitars and crescendoing percussion, and others have found success by jotting down every half-considered feeling of regret and angst and turning them into a chorusless sad-boy party anthems, Modern Baseball takes a more straightforward. Whether it be the “whoa-oh’s” of “Charlie Black” that hints at crossover potential with The Wonder Years’ more mature fans, or the frequent interjection of acoustic guitars that makes them seem natural tourmates with The Front Bottoms, everything about ‘You’re Gonna Miss It All’ aims to please by not hiding anything about either frontman Brendan Lukens’ early-20s discomfort or his artistic ambitions. MB’s secret weapon, though, is that they make much more liberal use of antagonistic sarcasm and bitterness than their peers, which keeps the themes they return to again and again from becoming too obvious or depleted. While Into It. Over It. makes a business of being 100% earnest and sincere, MB is far too ironic to concern themselves with baring their soul too often – they take too much pleasure in judging that asshole with an iPhone.
It’s easy to mistake MB’s artifice as cheesy sincerity at first glance. For instance, “Fine, Great” starts in immediately about a pronouncement of stuff Lukens hates and how they all stem from his own inadequacies, but aside from a voice that nasally and monotone being literally incapable of being so cliché, it’s the last line that convinces me he’s getting at something a bit deeper – “all I wanna do is worry about everyone but me.” This seems to hint at a greater consciousness of a world and status the likes of which Jimmy Eat World and Dashboard Confessional were well acquainted with, but which seems to have been either denied or made an enemy of by those in emo’s second- and fourth-wave iterations.
The rest of the album sways back and forth between the sincere and the tongue-in-cheek, using the former to make a point about the latter. Perhaps it would be a stretch to call the situations of romantic relationships in the songs a metaphor for the relationship between band and fan, but Lukens seems to use that decaying relationship as a jumping-off point for an examination of his apathy and existential dread which leads him to declare “whatever forever” with enough conviction to make it a contender for the de facto slogan of Generation Y. Musically there is an impressive amount of variation, none of which seems forced or contrived. “Going To Bed Now” almost has a country-tinged feel, and “Notes” even feature some slide guitar, while “Charlie Black” feels like feels like an introduction to emo revival for the Warped Tour set if I ever heard one.
I can’t say definitively that this is the point where emo might cross over (again), but I’d say Modern Baseball have as good a chance as there is to really break newcomers into the style. They rarely succumb to the pitfalls that keep other acts from gaining significant credibility, and the band has the serious songwriting chops and sense of detachment that make underground acts into cult favorites. Easily the best emo album of the year so far, Modern Baseball’s sophomore LP is the one that separates them from the bands that will inevitably be consigned to the dustbin of music history.
Recommended Tracks: Fine, Great; Rock Bottom; Charlie Black