I hate worrying about the future, ’cause all my current problems are based around the past.
Something about emo, and all of its subcategories, turns people into argumentative historians, drawing arbitrary borders and establishing eras. Lines on a map and a timeline that clearly mark when and where these scenes start and end, and who played their role. It’s all about when things started, when they hit their peak, and when they ended.
I’m not sure what wave we were riding in Philadelphia from 2010 to 2012. I had just moved two hours and what I perceived as a million cultural miles from where I grew up in Camp Hill, PA, to go to Temple University – which I saw as this important piece of Philly’s indie/punk/alternative/emo/whatever scene, itself an epicenter on the national scale.
When I got there, the wave of bands like Glocca Morra, Everyone Everywhere, Snowing, and Algernon Cadwallader was already cresting, if not fully breaking. Tigers Jaw and the Menzingers had fully established their camp down there, too, still kind of keeping a foot in Scranton mostly in name only.
Like most fresh transplants pretending they were always there, I probably went to one or two house shows and acted like I had always been there, and that I was part of what would surely be looked back on as an important era in punk history in real time, like CBGB or Gillman or something.
There weren’t basement shows like this anywhere else. There weren’t bands like this anywhere else.
About midway through my time at Temple, someone eventually clued me in on what some kids from across town at Drexel were doing in a band called Modern Baseball. They showed me the video for a song called “The Weekend,” which took place in a basement I wasn’t familiar with (having been in maybe three of them, I was the expert).
“It’s fine,” I thought and probably said out loud in the most grating 20-year-old Pitchfork acolyte tone. “Pretty standard emo fare of kids writing about how their old town sucks as soon as they move to a big city, and how they’ve outgrown their high school and its politics and its people, who just don’t get it like their new friends in the dorm.”
The hook was undeniable, though. I didn’t say that out loud, of course, lest I give these kids from a rival school (in scene quality, not basketball) any credit. I openly scoffed at songs like “@chloek,” with its literal, stream-of-consciousness opening lines.
I never got attached to that first album, Sports. It just never clicked for me, and to this day, as I write this, it still hasn’t. What came next, though … well, it also didn’t click with me, honestly. Not immediately.
Released 10 years ago this Sunday, You’re Gonna Miss It All, Modern Baseball’s first release for emo kingmaker Run For Cover Records, became the band’s statement piece — a statement that they were growing up, to some degree. (“I’ll admit, I’m in the same boat/ Caught between my adolescent safety net/ And where the world wants me to be”). They were growing out of the basement shows they hosted in their West Philly house. The names they were touring with were becoming more recognizable.
MoBo meant business. Whether you were a part of the Modern Baseball family that had always been there, or you were an outside observer at a different school across town finishing up your journalism degree and talking about Rented World instead, it soon became clear that Modern Baseball had positioned themselves as the biggest name in the city, in the scene, and maybe in the genre – whichever genre you lumped them into.
With You’re Gonna Miss It All, Modern Baseball never gave you a second to think. It was just a battering ram of early 20s emotion in all its forms (for better or worse – some songs veer uncomfortably to the emo cliche of blaming women for romantic failures). Songwriting/vocal axis Bren Lukens and Jake Ewald exchanged tracks in rapid fire, sometimes even finishing others’ sentences, allowing the other a moment to breathe and reload.
Cold open “Fine, Great” picks up largely where Sports left off, with Lukens laying bare their anxieties in plain, metaphor-free speak over acoustic guitar, still throwing in references to social media best practices and the pains of young and often unrequited love, ending on a crescendo that serves as an overture for the album. With “Broken Cash Machine,” Ewald laments a breakup, self-sabotage, and the certain mundane existence that comes with being of college age.
All of these songs could only come from kids of this age, where no romance could be casual. It was high-stakes, all-or-nothing, forever or never at all — laughable to think about as a “real adult,” really. And maybe that’s why it’s a little easier to listen to at this age.
With “Rock Bottom,” Lukens and the band celebrate a victory over the spins to spend a little more time with someone. More importantly, the song introduces what would become sort of a rallying cry for the MoBo faithful:
To call You’re Gonna Miss It All just a continuation of Sports would be an injustice. And as much as my 21-year-old self would’ve loved to have chalked the album’s high points to a ringer producer helping the band, it wasn’t. It was just them. They knew exactly who they were, what they wanted to say, and to whom they wanted to say it. They had their own distinct Modern Baseball sound now. Bands were copying them.
And Philadelphia, a city that latches onto its cultural assets with sicko-level commitment, held MoBo in a way that sort of felt like an older sibling proudly protecting the younger one with all of the potential, ensuring that they take advantage of the opportunities that the older ones didn’t or couldn’t. (I’m an only child, so I assume that’s what it’s like.)
Modern Baseball had carved out a neat little community around itself. Beyond their basement of growing cultural importance, they had friends in high blog places like Property Of Zack’s Zack Zarillo heralding them as a band to watch after Sports (to say nothing of emo advocate Ian Cohen’s positive Pitchfork review). The Lame-O Records imprint, which started purely as a college project/vehicle to release Sports and always had sort of a “Fifth Beatle” vibe around Modern Baseball, was growing alongside the band. The loyal fanbase stretched across time zones and oceans.
With You’re Gonna Miss It All, MoBo now had signature songs that this global fan base could shout along with night after night. “Your Graduation” became one of those staples. It has everything we now recognize as a quintessential MoBo song — Lukens lyrics about the object of your affection just not feeling the same level of feelings, an all-hands-on-deck singalong chorus hook, a simple earworm guitar riff bridge that literally feels like a crowd carrying you like in the video — plus the added bonus of letting drummer Sean Huber show off his grit-punk vocal abilities for a second there.
“Go ahead and walk away,” Lukens sings over an unresolved note.
In this era, it really seemed like Modern Baseball would be around forever. They were the chosen ones. But the thing about chosen ones in movies is that they often aren’t the chosen one at all, or else something happens that keeps them from fulfilling whatever prophecy or potential. The chosen one rarely fixes everything in a tidy fashion, or on the first try.
You’re Gonna Miss It All wasn’t Modern Baseball’s last release, though. They put out the EP MoBo Presents: The Perfect Cast Featuring Modern Baseball in 2015 (which is actually where I got on board after they got me with “The Thrash Particle”), then the divisive Holy Ghost in 2016. It was divisive because it was literally split into two halves: The Ewald half (J-side) and Lukens half (B-side).
You’re Gonna Miss It All felt like a team firing on all cylinders together. To borrow a phrase Ewald used later, it felt like something that could not leave the ground unless they lifted it up together. Holy Ghost was an excellent record that felt compartmentalized because it was. Almost two separate concept albums, one about loss and family, another about personal struggles and mental health. The band was overt with this message, releasing a heartfelt mini-doc before the album’s release that featured some of their peers like the Menzingers’ Tom May and the Wonder Years’ Dan “Soupy” Campbell praising the band like that aforementioned proud older brother. But the main story of the doc and album was of Ewald’s grandfather passing and everything that came with that loss, and of Lukens’ struggles with mental health in the lead-up to the album, including nearly attempting suicide.
This was the band growing up, beyond just the way they interpret romantic follies and handle being tired from touring. Real life was proving difficult, as it so often does with age.
Eventually, Modern Baseball hung things up the way so many bands do: too soon, with a wink-wink “hiatus” and a string of shows at Union Transfer. Some of those shows featured multiple play-throughs of “Your Graduation” and a cover of the Killers’ “When You Were Young,” which feels a lot more meaningful looking back on it. Maybe they recognized it back then; maybe it was just for fun and has gained meaning with time.
And even though they didn’t say it definitively at the time, even the casual observer knew this was it for the band. Or maybe it wasn’t. Who knows, really? But all things end. Bands, scenes, eras, parties, slumps.
If that was it for Modern Baseball, it’s clear that the band, despite its relatively short lifespan, did what it needed to do. They weren’t a flash in the pan as much as the flash of a quick comet, blowing through your siteline and making you say, “Whoa, holy shit!”
I look back on Modern Baseball and You’re Gonna Miss It All and think, “Wow, that really happened.” The good old days I didn’t recognize were happening in real time. But the thing is, a lot of people did recognize it. Maybe they were classmates at those first West Philly basement shows, or maybe they jumped on the wagon during the band’s relentless touring schedule, or maybe they never once saw them live but discovered them on the internet and found something in the band to relate to and felt like they were part of it. So many people felt like they were part of it. Part of the family. Part of the world they had created.
Modern Baseball was a band that wasn’t supposed to last forever in the literal sense, I think. It was sort of like a guardian angel that came here to do one specific task for a group of people of a certain age, in a specific timeframe, and peace out with an angelic Irish Goodbye. Maybe whatever force that inspired the guys in the band knew all of this, and even Inception’d the album title You’re Gonna Miss It All into their brains, knowing that you’d really miss it all if you weren’t paying attention.
I wasn’t paying attention. I missed it all. And it wasn’t until I grew up a little bit myself, listened more, and maybe got to a point where the lyrics weren’t as painfully relatable as they would’ve been at 21, and I could look back and think of my own snapshots of harmless immaturity with a smirk rather than a wince, and realized truly how special that album was for people. This will no doubt elicit a “yeah, no shit” from many readers.
You’re Gonna Miss It All was a powerful band at the height of its powers. It’s a time capsule in some ways, eternal in others. The band’s members and its fans have moved on and grown up, but Modern Baseball never will. It never has to. It was there and is there for people of a certain age, by people of a certain age, in a certain age, and that’s where it can remain for people to discover and revisit — even those who missed out in the moment.