slow dance to sad rock ~ two bands and an indie revival

Stepping on stage within the sweaty confines of Voodoo in Belfast at the end of this Summer, Philadelphia's Modern Baseball didn't look like a band carrying the weight of an entire movement on their shoulders.

Finally crossing the finish line of a month long UK and Ireland tour for their latest album 'Holy Ghost', the four young American's looked much like the adoring crowd gathered in front of them, albeit with more shorts on display. Quirky tee's (drummer Sean Huber sported his iconic 'Up the fucking Lagan!' number two nights in a row), baseball caps and the sort of exhausted happiness that Belfast audiences seem to radiate so naturally, this was a special night in every sense. Three years earlier they played the same venue, to a much smaller crowd and though reports from that night remain sketchy, the reaction of pure euphoria they generated seems to have been the same as that warm night in Belfast. Having followed this special band through each of their Irish tour dates, I witnessed first hand the kind of joy their sad songs inspired in people of all ages, race and social group. Modern Baseball's deeply personal songs, held (and continue to hold) universal appeal.

Pure joy...Modern Baseball

Roughly 49 miles away from their native Philadelphia, in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, lifelong friends Brian Sella and Mat Uychich were making similarly emotional indie-folk-pop in their bedrooms. Eventually evolving into the four piece they are today, The Front Bottoms would go on to become the other half of 2016's emo-movement, both bands crowning their rapid ascent with the coveted support slots for emo-pioneers Brand New on their (at time of writing) latest arena tour. These were two bands that started by picking up guitars at house parties and playing anywhere with a floor to sleep on; but just how have these two most unlikely groups rise so quickly? Here Encore NI offer's some potential answers...

1. Thoughtful Lyricism.

Whilst both bands find writing a killer hook as natural as breathing, a more important detail of the 'Mobo'/ 'Front Bottoms' story revolves around their use of the English language. Both bands write songs people want tattooed on their skin forever. Can their be a bigger compliment?

If lager-loving hedonism defined the 90's before them, then sensitivity, nostalgia and love-lorn regret may well define the present. If you are to compare how both bands chose to open their debut studio albums, the regret-tinged parallels are clear.

"Please fall asleep so I can take pictures of you and hang them in my room, so when I wake up I'll be like 'yeah, everything's alright' "
~ The Front Bottoms, 'Flashlight'

"I wanna start from the top, maybe like a do-over, replace the voices in my head with blind innocence..."
~ Modern Baseball, 'Re-do'

The Front Bottoms released their debut album in 2011, to a limited reaction. Any reviews they did receive all seemed to follow a similar pattern, best summed up by Sputnik Music contributor Sean Q who wrote; "despite all of the laughs that the quirky indie-pop duo might produce, the emotional response from this album is nothing less than overwhelming."

The following year Sputnik Music would cement their position as the pioneering website of this new emo-movement, becoming one of the first music sites to review Modern Baseball's debut 'Sports'. Just as The Front Bottoms did a year earlier, Mobo had a limited, but positive reaction, their lyrics also singled out for special mention.

"The lyrical concepts don't seem particularly unusual for this genre of music, but the way they are written is unique."

Just as The Smiths and The Cure had entwined humor with tragedy years before them, so it seems Modern Baseball and The Front Bottoms do to. Take 'Father' from The Front Bottoms debut, a song that could just as easily been from the pen of Morrissey, as it could The Mountain Goats.

"I have this dream that I am hitting my dad with a baseball bat and he is screaming and crying for help, and maybe halfway through it has more to do with me killing him, than it ever did protecting myself."

2. The World Today ~ Contemporary Issues.

Neither Modern Baseball or The Front Bottoms are political bands. You won't hear any slogans in their lyrics a-la-Manic Street Preachers and you'd be hard pressed to find a member from either contingent endorsing anything more than Ian Farmer's 'Cherry-Cola' t-shirt. That said, when there's a big issue in the wider world to be addressed, neither are likely to go hiding either.

Take The Front Bottom's 'Handcuffs' for example. A fan favourite from the split EP they released with rapper GDP in 2015, it's the story of a young man's fight against the system after killing a police officer during a violent arrest. 

Modern Baseball can also hit hard when the moment is right. For their contribution to the "30 Days, 30 Songs" playlist in October of this year they wrote 'Bart To The Future Part 2: The Musical' a track containing the lines:
"Trump Goes To Tucson
The tick, tick, click of the stink bomb
Three weeks time till tour takeoff
And I, Turn on the TV
File for divorce from my country"

3. A hope for the future.

There's never been a greater focus on mental health in the world than right now. New statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) shows that today suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, In 2014 UK based charity Samaritans recorded 6,581 suicides in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland alone.   Modern Baseball's co-frontman Brendan Lukens has been incredibly open about his own personal battles with anxiety and depression; not just in his lyrics, but in the mini-documentary 'Tripping in the Dark', where Luken's goes into serious details about the silent battles he faced in the years leading to and during the recording of Holy Ghost.

There was a time when mental health was never mentioned in the music industry, or indeed any industry. Thankfully Mobo and The Front Bottom's openness on such subjects keeps a door once shut, now firmly open.

4. Perfect timing.

At a time when bands that once carried the emo-torch began either disappearing or growing increasingly irrelevant, Mobo and The Front Bottoms filled this very particular hole. Whilst bands like Dashboard Confessional gradually lost touch with a new generation and others, like Paramore for example, began either loosing members or breaking up entirely, there was a space for some plucky young upstarts to follow in their footsteps. Batter up!

Tour Hotline ~ a hotline fans can text or call during a show if they feel unsafe in the crowd

5. Unstoppable songwriting.

In ten years time, when the musical landscape has shifted once more and bands playing in their bedrooms tonight are selling out arenas, what remains from any era are the songs; and at the heart of both of these bands are back catalogs to rival any.

For every person crammed into rooms across the United States and beyond to see these bands, sing their words and forget who they are for a night, that is what will live longer in the memory than anything else.

There may be no reason for their success truer than this, and long may it continue.

Taylor Johnson
If you like these bands why not try ~

Junk Drawer ~ Belfast

Sleeping Outside ~ North Coast

Hot Cops ~ Belfast

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