[2 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Modern Baseball is a young outfit, that much is clear from their sophomore record, You’re Gonna Miss It All. But this youth, it’s kind of timeless put to song. It’s the kind of thing that can cut to bone if you’re young, just getting out of high school or—like the band’s players—just getting going in college. But if you’re older, it can remind you of that time in your life, of how it felt to be lost and confused and on the edge of heartbreak.
Of course, main songwriters Brendan Lukens and Jacob Ewald are not just any younger bums. These guys, on record, are neurotic and will miss it all because they are too busy getting lost in the past, or the future, or even the moment to see it for what it is. “I hate worrying about the future,” Lukens sneers on opener “Well, Great,” “‘cause all my fuckin’ problems are based around the past.” It’s a claim that’s hard to believe on its face, because Lukens’ young bark doesn’t sound like it can possibly have much of a past. But it’s also a nod to the constant self-distraction that runs through You’re Gonna Miss It All.
That distraction often builds up or crushes small moments. These songs aren’t about falling in love so much as dreaming of falling in love when, say, someone actually speaks to you at a party (“Apartment”) or when someone asks you to stay as you go to leave (“Rock Bottom”). The album is full of these lovelorn scenes, and the songs run through all the common reactions, from walking alone at night, to dreaming of conversations with the object of affection, losing sleep, staring out windows and at ceilings. In fact, the album presents a laundry list of the moves the music of our youth teaches us to do in reaction to even the smallest emotional blip. Since the songs themselves render these small blips large, we too learn to do as much in life.
Curiously enough, the album seems aware of the young nature of this way of thinking. The solutions to physical pain here—pizza, for instance, or pills crushed into pudding—are particularly childish. And the adult things that happen around these scenes of love go mostly unmentioned. Drinking is mentioned quickly and in passing. Sex is non-existent on this record. “Rock Bottom” imagines the morning after, “watching Planet Earth and brainstorming tattoos.” There’s something innocent about the daydreams on this record, heartbroken in a puppy dog way and only after conversation, connection with, presumably, a girl.
This want and romance and heartache is incredibly self-obsessed. Despite all the declarations of romantic interest, you know far more about how it hurts the male subject than you do about why the female here is interesting. “Notes” refers to a girl as just one defining part, starting a letter “Dear Long Dark Hair.” These songs idealize the objects of their interest and deal in mostly self-deprecation and self-obsessed doubt when Lukens or Ewald reference themselves. It’s such a steady pattern that it’s sometimes hard to figure out how much this is a self-aware skewering of youthful, self-interested notions of love and loss and how much of this is earnest and deeply felt. It’s an album rife with cognitive dissonance. “Going to Bed Now” condemns an “asshole with an iPhone” for not paying attention to others, but it’s really only concerned with “the way you treated me.” On “Two Good Things,” Lukens claims he’s “not feeling lonely, I just like being alone,” which, coming so late in an album of attempted hook-ups, feels more like self-delusion than realization. “Your Graduation” is the most volatile of these songs, as all the emotions around what should be a big, capital-L Life event erupt to the surface. It fits, certainly, in that whoever the “you” is here, their graduation is about to become all about someone else.
But it also delivers the sneer many of these other songs don’t. Most of them sneer, but with a shrug fixed in. So You’re Gonna Miss It All becomes a perplexing record, one with moments of clever self-awareness alongside more confusing moments that seem too blinded by both. What makes this album work, even when it feels a bit petulant, is that the music is outstanding. The album is a set of constantly shifting rock and power-pop tunes that can shift tempo and mood on a dime. The album can blister its way along on power chords or it can lean on the subtle sway of pedal steel. The music here feels upfront and dynamic in its maturity, so even if this record full of young people trying to figure themselves out, as a band Modern Baseball has found a unified and dynamic voice. The question is, though, if you trust what that voice says.