If the phrase "pop-punk" brings to mind youngsters with tube socks on their arms and bubblegum slack-rock issuing from punchable faces (looking at you, Tom Delonge, wherever you are), it may be time for a terminology update. The new generation of catchy scream-along rock is poignant, unreserved, and, perhaps most surprisingly, ambitious.
Case in point: Philly's Modern Baseball, the house-show vets whose 2014 album You're Gonna Miss It All was a surprise chart success, peaking at the 97th slot on the Billboard 200. In its first week out, the group's newest — and most mature — effort, Holy Ghost, has already hit #53, even garnering attention from the New York Times, the BBC, and other media outlets.
For the last three years, Modern Baseball has consistently overachieved on the back of love-drunk, air-drum-inducing earworms and a tireless work ethic, managing to jam a relentless touring itinerary into the margins of the bandmates' college schedules — and that's not even all.
"We like to keep busy," says lead guitarist and part-time vocalist Jake Ewald. "We all play in other bands, and we all even do some nonmusical stuff when we're at home."
The frequent touring, Ewald says, "can get a little bit unnerving at times." But it's less about the rigors of show-a-day life and more a problem of downtime. "I start to feel unproductive after a while. Like I just haven't done anything except play songs every day and drink a bunch of coffee."
As of this spring, they've all completed their degrees, but the band has yet to take a breather. "Right before this tour, we did another tour of Europe and Australia and the UK, and right before that, I got my diploma in the mail," Ewald says.
When it takes the stage at Revolution on July 2, Modern Baseball will be making its 14th Florida appearance in the last three years. "On the first package tour we played, we got down there and played the Talent Farm, and we were just one of the opening bands," recalls Ewald of his first South Florida show in 2013.
"That was the first time we ever finished playing a show and had, like, a line of people in the parking lot who wanted to take pictures with us and have us sign things," he says, before quipping, "That's when we knew we were destined for greatness."
That sense of humor has been something of a calling card for the band, but it's made room for more serious matters on Holy Ghost. One ghost who looms large is Ewald's grandfather, a minister in the United Methodist Church, whose 2012 death from leukemia has had a lasting effect on his family.
The album, which is split into halves by the two lead singers, Ewald and Brendan Lukens, opens with Ewald droning over a lonely arpeggio, "He's been haunting my dreams at night / I've been bleeding from tripping in the dark / trying to turn on the light."
For his half of the record, Ewald says he was thinking less about the immediate facts of his grandfather's death than "the domino effect it had on my family in the years that followed."
If Ewald's loss is rueful, the loss Lukens discusses in his lyrics — of an anguishing inner force — seems welcome. Lukens, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last year after entering treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts, has been open about his struggles with addiction and mental illness.
When the tightly wound "What If..." drops out into Lukens' hushed final lines, "Seeking out the fraud in me / with compassion and honesty, I'll wait," it's like a guitar string snapping, the tension of the lyrics' overstimulated self-confrontation unfurling overtop a dying party scene.
Sounding like a reluctant admission of exhaustion, it's an honest Behind the Music-like glimpse at one of the hardest-working young bands in America.
With Joyce Manor and Thin Lips. 7 p.m. Saturday, July 2, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $19. Visit jointherevolution.net.
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