Four years after their debut, Nervous Dater produce yet another big, beautiful mess

Nervous Dater

Call in the Mess

Counter Intuitive · February 26, 2021


There are bands that create music with a formula you can always rely on, a guarantee in expectation. Then there are bands like Nervous Dater, whose musical creativity creates a big, beautiful mess, like a purposeful paint splatter all over their albums. Their debut album Don’t Be a Stranger carries their most popular song “Bad Spanish,” a track loaded with jitters, nerves, and lines like “I’ll bash my fucking head.” Four years later, Nervous Dater is back with their sophomore album, Call in the Mess. The band has three members: Rachel Lightner carries most of the vocals and guitar, Matt Goetz adds more vocals and drums, and Kevin Cunningham grounds it all with bass. The trio work together in harmony, balancing each other’s strengths in the songwriting. The product is a collection of ten songs, each standing out as individuals while fitting into the puzzle. 

The tracks ask their own questions, filled with a severe self awareness, but almost unsure of what to make of it. “Middle Child” is about Lightner’s acceptance in being nonbinary. Their dynamic voice sings “My mind and my body constantly fight,” over a climbing guitar and drums, stamping frazzled thoughts into the feeling. “Violent Haiku” kicks down the door with a strident guitar, commanding attention for Lightner to talk climate change. “The problem is the solution,” Lightner sings, begging an apocalypse from Mother Nature in order to wipe humanity from Earth. Chaotic? Yes, but that’s Nervous Dater’s niche.

Goetz embraces the grittiness of the punk band on “Tin Foil Hat,” which feels like an even more paranoid version of “Aliens Exist” by Blink-182. The song makes it sound like Goetz is bouncing off the walls, further detaching from reality with each second. It’s kinetically vibrant, with everything from smashing drums to raucous guitar to an actual sample of ’90s TV show host Art Bell speaking with a pilot flying his plane into Area 51. It ends with Goetz declaring, “I’m going off the grid / You won’t see me anymore.” Another song that’s just as fun is “Farm Song,” which sounds like if Nervous Dater did try going off the grid and wound up in the country instead. Its toe-tapping beat and twanging electric guitars pair with more vulnerable lyrics like “I felt the helium rise slowly to my heart / Withdrawn from drugs and hope / I was naked and you were clothed / Sometimes I don’t think I have a home.” Lightner explains in an interview that the song “is about questioning your response patterns in times of crisis; in my case, dealing with job loss, debt, and SSRI withdrawal.” In the middle, the energy slows, as if Lightner themself is stopping to question what the hell they’re doing. The beat picks up only to be slowed down again, spiralling out into a discordant whirring noise opposite to the country feeling it begins with. 

Call in the Mess follows up Don’t Be a Stranger with a more polished version of the beautiful disaster they created. All of the tracks have their own strengths, but some fall through the cracks. “Turn Them Ourselves in the Grave” is more forgettable, its quieter existence falling short when stacked up against the others. Even the more stripped down “Everything Right” holds the power in its lyrics, radiating a vulnerability unlike “Turn Them Ourselves.” Nervous Dater is finding themselves in Call in the Mess. The album hones their strength in self-awareness, building on the foundation of their jittery chaos. Nervous Dater has this opportunity to grip onto themselves and push their sound to new boundaries while still maintaining their identity. 

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