Review Summary: They are young, immature, and sometimes melodramatic, but that makes them good
Emo is an interesting genre of music. From its inception in the mid-1980s as a cathartic form of punk music, it has gone through many stylistic changes over time and from band to band. Because emo can incorporate multiple genres, from hardcore to indie, it is a difficult musical style to define.
Modern Baseball is a Pennsylvania band that is the latter of the two. They are not at all the first band to combine the two genres, but they have definitely developed their own unique style. The record Sports begins with the line “I wanna start from the top; maybe like a do-over.” I think it fits pretty well for what is to come in the album. Sports is an experimental record, with ambitious hopes and desires that could turn disastrous if done the wrong way.
Each song on the album tells its own story, with topics ranging from the flaws of youthful relationships to events that happen on the weekend. The lyrical concepts don't seem particularly unusual for this genre of music, but the way they are written is unique. Examples that can be used are “Though the white jacket didn't fit, the friends I came with did perfectly, snugged right to my body like sad movies or late night drinks” and “You gotta certain 'who knows what' about you, and I gotta small amount of time to figure out why and to whom it does apply.” Though some lines in Sports may feel a bit sloppy or too drawn-out, it's nice hearing a band who really puts thought into their lyrics. The lyrics speak almost entirely of damaged goods. The narrator in each song has some type of internal or external emotional conflict. In Tears Over Beers, he sings about a girl he had a fondness for at a young age who preferred the classic example of an idiot jock to him, a kid who cared deeply about her and hid his feelings. Listeners who are hoping to relate to Sports' cathartic lyrics may be somewhat disappointed if they are not teenagers or young adults raised in the twenty-first century. This is because technology plays a huge role in the lyrics of nearly every song on the album. A few good examples would be “I'd rather spend my evening talking to Chloe on Twitter than have you come over so it would be like old times,” “Sober or not, I locked everything you sent me,” and “Texting you 'sup's and 'heyy's with a smile or winky face hoping to get the same.” Some of these lyrical refrains may seem downright embarrassing to some, but I am actually surprised they are not used in musc more often. Artists in the 1980s had no problem writing about talking on the phone all day, so what is the issue with talking about Facebook and Twitter" At the end of the day, Modern Baseball is a very confessional band with little concern for how deep or thoughtful they sound, and I think they are all the better for it.
The vocals in the album are sung in a pretty normal way for this variety of music. They are of a high range. They're whiny, cathartic, and proud of it. They are sung with varied levels of interest, with a slower, less emotional tone in tracks such as I Think You Were In My Profile Picture Once and the beginning of Cooke, but much louder and with much more passion in songs like See Ya, Sucker and @chl03k. They may sound annoying to some, but I personally think they compliment each track nicely.
The instrumentation of Sports shows the style they have created more than anything else. Each song either offers a soft acoustic melody or an aggressive (but oh-so-clean sounding) guitar riff. The best use of guitars in the album is in the song Cooke. The transition of slow, harmonious guitars to a rise in pace in the chorus is probably the most well-written part of the record instrumentally. The bass and drums also do their part in each song, even if they do not do much to stand out themselves. But let's face it, neither of those instruments usually get to shine on their own much in this type of music.
As a final critique of Modern Baseball's debut, I would like to discuss its track flow. It appears they wanted the album to be separated into two parts, with the first song being called Re-Do and the middle one known as Re-Done (this is also evidenced by side B of its vinyl, which starts on this song). While this may be amusing, the two halves, musically and lyrically, don't seem to follow any sort of order. The songs as a whole are almost all good, but with brief, simple (some may call them filler) tracks such as @chl03k, I Think You Were in My Profile Picture Once, and Look Out, we have to question the necessity of them being there. The first two are not too awfully short, but Look Out, which begins with a catchy and promising vocal melody, ends at a mere 55 seconds. I have to ask here why they made no effort to develop it into a much better full song. The record also ends with the song Coals. Although it may be a good song on its own, using the word anticlimactic to describe it being used as the album's finale is an understatement. Aside from these criticisms, Sports seems to follow a decent direction, with transitions such as the end of the softer @chl03k to the beginning of the extremely passionate Hours Outside in the Snow giving the record a form of consistency.
Modern Baseball is a unique musical project. Some may find their sound unlikable or annoying, but I think few of us will discredit their originality. They are young, immature, and sometimes melodramatic, but that makes them good. Who knows, if they continue to make music, they may years from now consider this album embarrassing, but to those of us who have already spent some time with it enough to enjoy it, I believe we will think otherwise.