The positive energy surrounding Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost is palpable – a certified Good band made up of Great People made a Very Good Album and everyone is happy about it. What exactly makes it such a good album takes a little bit of effort to define. The division of the album into two distinct halves, each helmed by one of the band’s co-frontmen, makes understanding the narrative concepts at work a little easier. The split allows us as listeners to spend uninterrupted time with each member’s psyche in a way we haven’t been able to do on past albums.
Jake Ewald takes the first six tracks of Holy Ghost to grapple with a lot of problems that don’t have simple answers. As the mini-doc Tripping in the Dark tells, his writing was inspired by the simultaneous ailing of his grandfather and the new, but serious relationship that helped him process that impending loss. Weighty, visceral concepts like love and death seem to have naturally inspired the types of questioning and inner-conflict that are so hard to define. On “Note to Self” Jake Ewald asks
|“When every second of sun’s the same / What’s the point of staying awake?” and
|“What do I really want to say?”
while later on “Hiding” he admits:
|“Still some nights I find / The ideas that bring me rest / Are the ones that used to prod and pester and keep me up / Swinging open doors I swore I’d shut.”
Because of the back-to-back visits to this part of Jake Ewald’s mind, a tone of acceptance marks the first half Holy Ghost. Lyrically, Ewald seems to admit that meaning in life is dang tough to grasp and define, but that it’s worth searching for if only for what you learn along the way. Nowhere is this more evident than later on in the slow boil of “Hiding”, with the line “Let me learn here / I am in pursuit / of all I can undo.” His writing on Holy Ghost is just as specific as it was on Sports and You’re Gonna Miss It All, but Jake Ewald seems more engaged with how his own experiences fit into the larger framework. What he’s sharing is a longing to make peace with a lifetime of questioning, and in his stories we as listeners can take stock of our own efforts to do the same.
While Modern Baseball’s earlier albums narrated the everyday highs and lows that go along with coming of age through sharply detailed storytelling, Holy Ghost finds them grasping for a way forward in the face of life-altering change. Whereas Jake Ewald seeks meaning and understanding in a fracturing loss and new love, Brendan Lukens fights for survival, searching for a way out of the mindset that nearly drove him to take his own life and led him to seek treatment with the support of friends and family.
Lukens spends his side of the album chastising the way he treats others, heaping blame on himself for the way he moves through the world. This self-loathing piles up, culminating in the raw nerve of an album closer “Just Another Face.” Over distant instrumentation, Lukens listlessly recalls the outlook that nearly drove him to the abyss:
I’m a waste of time and space
Drifting through my selfish ways
I don’t know how I got here
…I scream get lost, I hate everything
I can’t say how I got here
It’s far from the first time Brendan has granted listeners access to his inner monologue. But with his protective layer of sarcasm stripped away, it’s clear that his problems are too real to dismiss any longer.
MoBo is known for cathartic sing-along choruses, so you shouldn’t take it lightly when I say that the buildup and release on Holy Ghost’s finale stands out as their most powerful, or at least their most important to date. As the energy of the instrumentation swells, the narrative perspective shifts, signaling Lukens’ realization that even at his lowest point, there are still people who believe his life is worth saving:
If it’s all the same, it’s time to confront this face to face
’ll be with you the whole way. It’ll take time, that’s fact
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’s to come
There remains a significant stigma surrounding mental illness that prevents those in need of help from reaching out. By communicating the role his friends played in helping him face his demons, Lukens is reaching a few people who might need to hear it from someone like him to truly believe it.
Holy Ghost begins with a search for a light in the dark and has its songwriters set out on their own paths to find it. It’s only fitting that it all wraps up with a reminder that the best way to cope with this world is to move through it together.