There are few bands in recent memory that have had such a whirlwind of a rise as Modern Baseball. Ever since the self release of their debut album ‘Sports’ in 2011, all the way to their farewell tour and indefinite hiatus in 2017, the impact that Modern Baseball had on both fans, contemporaries, and collaborators has been felt throughout the inter-lap of the indie rock, emo, and punk scenes. In the wake of the bands’ departure, Jake Ewald, one half of Mobo’s founders, released a brand new album under the auspices of Slaughter Beach, Dog, a fictional location created by Ewald to act as a backdrop for new concepts in his songwriting. That debut solo record, ‘Birdie,’ succeeded in many ways; it was a bubbly, pop influenced folk and indie album that was reminiscent of Ewald’s work with Mobo, but also very successfully established him as an artist outside of both that group’s influence, as well as his relationship with cofounder, songwriter, and fellow frontman Brennan Lukens. Whereas Slaughter Beach, Dog began as a solo project for Ewald, he’s now joined by a new slew of friends, including Nick Harris on guitar, Zack Robbins on drums, and most notably, former Modern Baseball bassist Ian Farmer. While ‘Birdie’ felt like a solo exploration in Ewald’s memories and relationships with other people, and his path moving forward, two years later, 'Safe And Also No Fear' feels like a group effort to show Jake Ewald at his most anxious, alone, and naked. Ewald’s voice is accessible and catchy, and his vocal delivery on each track sticks into your brain in a way that allows his lyrics to get stuck there too. Whether it be the quiet murmurs and atmospheric drums and guitars on the opener “One Down,” the powerful, pushing chorus on “Good Ones,” or the winding melody that is the long haul of “Map of the Stars,” the songwriting is consistent enough to allow the band to tell Jake’s stories at their full potential. The unnerving and uncomfortable energy of “Black Oak” is almost reminiscent of an AJJ ballad, telling the story of someone’s drunken car accident in an inventive and creative way, with the tail end of the song’s instrumental pushing on and on through the darkness of a highway lane, with quiet vocals whispering underneath, too far away to reach, but too close to ignore. “Tangerine” and “Good Ones” sound as if they could just almost fit in on ‘Birdie,’ with bittersweet vocals and lyrics mingling with bopping pop influence, along with harder rocking moments that feel very reminiscent to the glory days of Modern Baseball. “Heart Attack” takes this same notion, but Ewald twists the catchy pop grooves on their head by infusing them with the realization that he’s being ghosted by someone he had his hopes pinned on. The record ends on a similar note it began with, with the winding “Anything” taking the point of view of someone who could have it all, who’s living an average life to average success, but doesn’t know what else there could be past that. It’s a perfect conclusion to the albums’ thesis of anxiety, possibility, and change; and it leaves things open in a way that makes it clear that the path is still winding.
The intention of 'Safe And Also No More Fear' feels very strongly placed, and the way that Ewald demonstrates his themes is trademark of someone who has been writing songs professionally for a long time. That being said, there are moments where it feels as if the same point is being made twice, with “Good Ones” and “Tangerine” being trademark examples of this. There are other times where the instrumentation feels pedestrian at worst, with some guitar passages that feel unfortunately uninspired. There are several moments where it feels like an idea wasn’t fully conceived, and required more development that just never ran its course.
If you take a look at the cover art of ‘Birdie,’ you’ll observe it as an image of old household objects discarded onto a sunlit porch, waiting to be hauled off to a Goodwill or the local dump, old memories that are being shed for new ones, an image that comprised the themes of that record quite well. Contrasting this, the cover art of 'Safe And Also No More Fear' showcases Ewald now accompanied with the rest of his bandmates, in a dark, blue light, performing a song, backs to the audience. You can’t make out anyone’s faces, but there’s a feeling of solidarity in the togetherness. ‘Birdie’ was an album about the warm parts of Ewald’s past, and his memories of those he was close to, alongside themes of being comfortable in his own skin while living alongside his friends. 'Safe And Also No More Fear' is the exact opposite of this, instead focusing on the cold, alone feelings of being in a crowd of your loved ones, and pulls on the feelings of not being enough, of never being able to live up to the expectations that other people set by who they are. There’s a vulnerability that Ewald demonstrates in his wit, charisma, and wordplay, that ultimately allows his new record to succeed in its concept, and the instrumentation is much more focused and somehow feels even more stripped down despite its new direction with a full lineup. The imagery is poignant, illustrating a past that is vivid, anxious, and sorrowful. But through it all, he makes it clear, that he isn’t alone, that he can make it, and that there is still light at the end of the tunnel. “Map of the Stars,” one of the album’s strongest highlights, could very well be interpreted as a love letter to the glory days of Modern Baseball, or at the very least, the glory days of something. 'Safe And Also No More Fear' is a new beginning for Slaughter Beach, Dog, and feels like a strong debut for a promising new ensemble, and its masterful take on the act of reminiscence not only rings true, but fills the heart with hope. 4.4/5 <<