31 Aug Modern Baseball vs. The Hotelier
The analytics boom in Major League Baseball has forced the greatest minds in the game to think differently about the ways in which they view and evaluate players. Finding talent and projecting out performance is more detailed than ever and it seems the most efficient way for the common fan to make sense of this information overload is through comparative analysis.
I know, I sound like Brian Kenny reciting an excerpt from his book Ahead of the Curve, but there’s a point to this. In theory it’d be great if all our favorite music and movies can exist in a vacuum without any societal context, it’s just not the reality we live in. Some of us make Year-End lists, look at the rankings to see where our favorite radio hits land on the Billboard Hot 100, even tune into those award shows we claim to hate just so we’re ready to tweet when the academy gets something wrong. We love this shit. Comparative analysis is how we put our art into perspective.
This article is the first installment of the Punks and Recs Versus Series, in which we will take two similar things we love – movies, songs, book series – stack them side by side, and pick a winner. This exercise will likely come in handy when the end of the year and award season rolls around, but if nothing else, it should spur some interesting debates.
To paint with broad genre strokes, two of my favorite emo-tinged rock records of the year have been Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost, and The Hotelier’s Goodness. Both bands have released three albums and have played shows in the same indie and punk circles for the last handful of years; but if you had to say, who is the better band at this very moment?
Since both bands are three LPs in, that means we have three records’ worth of data. Modern Baseball’s debut full-length, Sports didn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it did show that the band was a lot more than just a derivative of American Football. Sports was a snappy and clever emo record that was equal parts The Front Bottoms and Say Anything. It remains the band’s most quiet record to date, but Mobo did play around with that blink-182 country-punk sound from their earlier material and had a few ear-wormy hooks that have kept the record from completely vanishing from the band’s live set. Sports was a solid introduction to Modern Baseball for me. The Hotelier, on the other hand, I didn’t hear until LP2.
It Never Goes Out was the first effort from the band back when they were still going by the name The Hotel Year. I’ve since gone back to explore the album on a couple different occasions, but the somewhat generic take on late-90s emo (a la Sunny Day Real Estate and The Get Up Kids) still feels like it belongs to an entirely different band. Aside from subtracting the additional singer delivering vocals alongside Christian Holden, The Hotelier made a massive jump as a band with the name change and the release of their seminal record, Home, Like NoPlace is There.
Home was this relentless attack on mortality with emotive vocal performances, a consistent theme of combating loss, and a precise use of gang vocals that basically says, “hey, we feel this too.” The record is remarkably cohesive without an ounce of sounding same-y and it made tidal waves in the worlds of punk and emo alike. Home, Like NoPlace is There is every bit as powerful today as it was back in 2014 and is arguably one of the most important records to come out of the scene in the last 5 or 10 years.
Modern Baseball released a record in 2014 as well; and while it didn’t have the same immediate impact or resonance that Home did, You’re Gonna Miss It All was no slouch of a sophomore record. The Mobo dudes came back with a stronger sense of urgency on the second album and delivered a batch of songs that were a lot more conducive to those pop-punk, pinball mosh pits. They were still quirky and sharp, but their vocals sounded a lot less amateurish and their current sound really started to take shape on YGMIA. Lead singers Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens spun these wistful and awkward college tales that were presented so thoughtfully it’d be hard for listeners not to relate.
Through two records, the respective careers of Modern Baseball and the Hotelier were very comparable with the Hotelier having the slight edge thanks to the success of Home; however, just like your most recent season in baseball is the strongest indicator of future performance, it’s all about your last release. The Hotelier definitely had a better pedigree going into 2016, but when it comes to Holy Ghost verse Goodness, Mobo gets the nod.
Along with operating on the fringes of emo, something else Modern Baseball and The Hotelier have in common with their most recent records is grandeur. The Hotelier’s Goodness is this love and break-up record framed through the lense of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, whereas Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost seems to directly reference an idea in Catholicism without actually having anything to do with religion.
Now, you don’t actually have to believe in a certain ideology to enjoy Goodness, but that theme running throughout is just one of several instances where The Hotelier lay it on a bit thick with the new album. They tried to be bold by making a group of nudists in the wilderness their cover art, and incorporated three interludes including the intro; none of which feel necessary. The stray snare hits on the track “Goodness, Pt. 2” stick around for way too long and the second half of “Sun” really drags on with the title essentially being shouted over and over again for the better part of the last two minutes. I’m not saying there aren’t highlights on this record, but I think The Hotelier would have been better served to approach Goodness with a little more subtlety.
Modern Baseball played Holy Ghost with more of a deft hand and found a lot of character in their record thanks to all these little nuances. The artwork felt tangible with just a photo of the two songwriters standing one in front of the other in a parking lot and a camcorder hiding their faces; they built a their own vocabulary by using phrases like “chit-chat” and “TV clicker”; and they constructed their album like Outcast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by splitting the songwriting duties half and half, right down the middle. These finite details helped Mobo to further connect with their audience and gave the larger theme of having someone watching over you some real weight. Kind of like The Hotelier’s Home, Like NoPlace Is There, Holy Ghost feels like Modern Baseball saying, “Hey, we’re here for you.”
I think the ability to execute these large-scale ideas while staying self-contained is why Modern Baseball is the better band for me right now. Mobo has continued to improve with each record, which puts them on a better career trajectory going forward. These are two great bands and were lucky to have them both operating in this much needed space; but for this particular contest, Modern Baseball is the clear winner for me. When it comes down to it, The Hotelier may have isolated some listeners with their approach on Goodness, but Modern Baseball opened their arms with Holy Ghost.