A good way to show that Modern Baseball have become an influential band is to acknowledge that they’ve gone through a very distinct career arc that most of these beloved emo bands tend to experience. They released a couple of truly acclaimed albums which would go on to spawn a healthy number of copycats before calling it a day much earlier than most would’ve preferred, upon which the stock of those albums has begun to increase even further. Granted, that’s not an exact science, but given what Slaughter Beach, Dog has achieved as a post-band solo project for MoBo guitarist and vocalist Jake Ewald, it’s a pattern that’s continued even up to now. Birdie was the sort of intricate, intelligent indie-rock album that’s part and parcel with with endeavours like this, leading to Slaughter Beach, Dog becoming a rather significant entity in its own right. But there’s also a limit to what this sort of thing can achieve, and just like how others in the same position have quickly drifted towards tepid, uninspired idea-recycling for their subsequent efforts, it’s not like Ewald can be automatically ruled out of that particular conversation.
And yet, Safe And Also No Fear continues to do a good job of keeping that watermark high. At least when compared to Birdie, this sophomore effort treads on some more well-worn ground overall, but it rarely sees Ewald succumbing to the more egregious clichés associated with albums like this, and for what is effectively a compact and intimate release in pretty much every fashion, it has the feeling of something wanting to reach a bit wider. That’s not to say that the rather standard, earthy indie-emo fare has been left behind, but Ewald has a better command of it than most, and that’s imperative in setting Safe And Also No Fear apart.
Boiled down to its absolute essentials though, it’s easy to see where the overfamiliarity can sink in here, especially in the presentation. It’s all very low-key, resting on rumbling electric guitars serving as a backbone to a more acoustic foundation, while percussion is unwaveringly steady and Ewald adopts a low vocal style that wears its world-weariness prominently. It’s easy to dismiss it as a very well-worn standard, and with a track like Heart Attack that feels stripped down even by that standard, that’s not exactly difficult to dispute, but there’s a bit more of an interesting command of breadth in the melody that works well to Ewald’s advantage. The sprawling Black Oak is the best example as its echoing guitars, soft percussion and keys mesh into a gorgeously nuanced extended outro, but there’s also the country-tinged subtlety of Dogs and more upbeat college-rock of Tangerine that take their longstanding beats and do something a bit more with them. Alongside production that accentuates these subtleties and makes for a mix that’s a lot broader in what it wants to achieve, it makes a rather simple and no-frills compositional style (something that isn’t exactly new in this scene) feel a bit weightier and more expansive. It’s a similar case with the writing too, as Ewald takes a rather basic thematic styleset for this brand of emo and peppers it with some distinct turns of phrase for something more distinct to him.
It’s not much but it’s what prevents Slaughter Beach, Dog from diving into the doldrums that so much of indie-emo resides in, and even when there still isn’t a great deal to say about Safe And Also No Fear, that’s something to be commended. In some ways, it’s what makes this work as a sophomore project in particular; it’s definitely a weaker entry than Birdie, but where that album felt resoundingly like its own thing, especially at the time it was released, having this one build on those ideas rather than reworking them strikes as a necessary and generally effective stylistic step. It’s hard to say whether it’ll last all that long given the scene at large, but Safe And Also No Fear has the ideas worth exploring and intent worth investing in, and in cases like these, that can be enough.
For fans of: The Hold Steady, Modern Baseball, The Front Bottoms
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Safe And Also No Fear’ by Slaughter Beach, Dog is released on 2nd August on Big Scary Monsters.