February 12, 2014

Test Spin: You’re Gonna Miss It All, Modern Baseball

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By JAMES RAINIS

Months ago, the hipster intelligentsia sporadically decided that music made by (predominantly) white dudes complaining about their feelings over distorted guitars was worth talking about again. It’s admittedly a bit of a misnomer. After all, what most people envision as “emo” is cans of hair dye and a trip to Hot Topic away from the scrappy, tuneful, emotional punk of Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate. However, this so-called revival makes a lot of sense, given that our generation’s unfiltered excavation of our feelings is our favorite sport. If you’re going to talk about your romantic shortcomings on your Twitter account, you might as well put those same thoughts to a two-and-a-half minute punk song.

Drexel University quartet Modern Baseball are the product of Philadelphia’s increasingly fertile punk scene (Waxahatchee, Swearin’ and The Menzingers all have ties to Philly’s DIY circuit), and debut Sports featured enough loser sentiment and jittery energy to earn the emo revival tag. On their sophomore effort You’re Gonna Miss It All, they do justice to their formidable predecessors with a collection of compact songs about girls, trying not to do anything too embarrassing and accidentally doing the aforementioned embarrassing things around girls.

Singer Brenden Lukens plays the self-defeating, neurotic nerd from the opening acoustic strum of “Fine, Great”: “I hate worrying about my future, cause all my current problems are based around the past.” From then on, it’s a sugar rush of mistake-ridden narratives. The band clearly worship at the altar of Weezer’s Blue Album. As proof, look no further than “Broken Cash Machine,” whose guitar shines through the furious downstrokes like sunlight in an Ithaca winter, or the assured chug and “whoa-oh-oh”’s of “Charlie Black,” or the sunny breakdown harmonies of penultimate track “Two Good Things.”

While the melodies are sticky, the sentiment is anything but sweet. Modern Baseball songs possess a wicked humor that plays to Lukens adenoidal voice and acidic, self-deprecating tongue. On the energetic start-stop of “Apartment,” Lukens over-shares, admitting to checking a girl out excessively, failing to muster courage to say anything and leaving afraid that he had come off annoying while they were playing a board game. He does put-downs well, too: “Sharp as a tack / but in the sense that you’re not smart, just a prick” he accuses on “The Old Gospel Choir,” before turning the same insult on himself.

Modern Baseball, being the college-educated young men they are, have learned to diversify: they don’t solely rely on the downer punk gimmick for the entirety of You’re Gonna Miss It All. “Rock Bottom” is borderline romantic, with Lukens telling a girl that “there’s no reason I should leave your bed tomorrow / We can watch Planet Earth and brainstorm tattoos.” There’s also the atmospherics and acoustic balladry of “Timmy Bowers.” Hell, the band even flexes a little cowpunk muscle on “Going to Bed Now.” The emo-tag begins to seem even more inappropriate; I don’t remember Taking Back Sunday, for all their charms, being this versatile.

Had all this chatter not existed about this emo revival (do we really want more Seventeen features trying to explain the trend with that journalistic integrity we’ve come to expect from them?), I would have just thought Modern Baseball were a personally distraught yet charming guitar rock band along the lines of Superchunk or Titus Andronicus. On You’re Gonna Miss It All, Modern Baseball serve something more varied, self-aware and a helluva lot more funny than anything I’d traditionally construe as emo. They’re going to be fighting that tag for a while, but at least it’ll mean that we might get to hear Lukens and Modern Baseball crack wise about it in song.

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