Rachel Lightner is like a bat out of hell. Intense and panicky, Lightner’s voice wails and squeaks and soars and packs a walloping punch. On Nervous Dater’s 2017 debut album, Don’t Be A Stranger, Lightner is an occupying force. “It’s hard to ask for help when you don’t really want it/ Passed out on the train in your own vomit” goes the commanding hook on highlight “Bad Spanish.” “It’s fine, I said, I’ll bash my fucking head through the wall/ So I don’t have to call you before I go to bed.” Their lyrics are wordy and precise, toppling over themselves in a glorious mess. The songs are relentlessly catchy, rip-roaring and violent. The band presents a united front: chugging riffs and pop-punk hooks and an incendiary sense of humor.
Nervous Dater carry those traits through to their sophomore album, Call In The Mess. The New York trio channel exhaustion to the point of delirium; their songs sound like the moment when you decide life has gotten too complicated and you have no other choice but to drop everything and rage. “Sometimes I wanna throw my arms in the air, scream ‘Fuck it! I couldn’t even care!’,” Lightner sings on “Nothing Left,” which careens and jolts like a bumpy roller coaster ride. “I always die in my dreams/ The city is killing me/ I’ll try to be kind, but I’m losing my mind as we speak.” Lightner and bandmates bassist Kevin Cunningham and drummer Andrew Goetz embody that fuck-it attitude, with the riotous energy to match.
Lightner is great at making everything feel like the end of the world. Their songs are mini-panic attacks, and they barrel forward with unstoppable momentum. They sing about self-destructive tendencies with a grim inevitability. “When it gets real bad, I call it movie theater mode,” Lightner sings wryly on one song. “Watching myself from the dark of the very last row/ God, I hate this show.” That sort of out-of-body experience is both suffocating and a little thrilling, at least if the vibe is right. “Farm Song,” the track that includes that line, finds the band at a party, feeling defeated but full of restless purpose. “I can’t explain why I get lonely when I’m with all my friends in a hot, crowded basement,” Lightner admits, singing about how irrational one’s own mind can be. “Deep breath, dramatic sigh/ I hope this isn’t how it all ends/ But sometimes I can’t stop/ When I start taking shots/ I know how much I’ve lost.”
Anxiety courses through all of Nervous Dater’s songs. That anxiety takes the form of impostor syndrome, vivid hallucinations of death and destruction, more mundane visions of being stuck in obsessive thought-pattern loops. “Pace around the apartment for hours/ Stare at the wall and cry in the shower,” Lightner sings on opening track “Middle Child.” “I wanna feel special but I know I’m not/ Can’t go outside so my insides rot.” On “Violent Haiku,” Lightner sings of a cleansing apocalypse: “So bring on the ocean, flood all the streets/ Bring on the fire, let it burn every goddamn thing.”
They approach all these feelings with a twisted smile. These songs are serious but they’re also fun and very often funny. On “Tin Foil Hat,” drummer Goetz takes over on vocals to go off about good old-fashioned conspiracy theories, like alien invasions and CIA plots. “Everybody said I’m wrong/ But I knew it all along/ I think I know the score/ I’m going off the grid/ You won’t know me anymore,” he sings, his stark-raving mad intrigues an easy stand-in for the more grounded anxiety patterns we make up in our own lives. “Red String Map,” which sounds like the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia Charlie meme in song form, has Lightner frantically trying to figure out where exactly their life went wrong: “Red string map of the things that I lack/ Pinpoint what went wrong and pick up the slack.”
But where on their debut album, Lightner would often disassociate in order to not deal with their problems, here they at least attempt to confront them head-on. Lightner is blunt about how making music can just be another crutch: “When you finally got happy, where did your songs go? You only sing when you’re sad, fucked up, drunk, or detached,” they sing on the album’s closing track. But sometimes a song is the only way to make sense of the jumpy, all-over-the-place feelings going on in your head.
Throughout Call In The Mess, Nervous Dater attempt to get a better handle on those wild mood swings. The songs often feel like performances, outsized and melodramatic and excessive in the best way. And by making those feelings sound larger-than-life, by capturing the messiness and chaos of what goes on inside one’s own mind with searing hooks and sonic temper tantrums, maybe it somehow makes it possible to move past them.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Julien Baker’s Little Oblivions.
• Cloud Nothings’ The Shadow I Remember.
• King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s L.W..
• Blanck Mass’ In Ferneaux.
• Danny L Harle’s Harlecore.
• Lost Horizons’ In Quiet Moments.
• Glitterer’s Life Is Not A Lesson.
• Willie Nelson’s Frank Sinatra covers album That’s Life.
• Alice Cooper’s Detroit Stories.
• James Taylor’s American Standard.
• Melvins 1983’s Working With God.
• Maximo Park’s Nature Always Wins.
• NOFX’s Single Album.
• Jimmy Edgar’s CHEETAH BEND.
• Kumi Takahara’s See-Through.
• Smerz’s Believer.
• Nightshift’s Zöe.
• Mouse On Mars’ AAI.
• Dreamwell’s Modern Grotesque.
• Claud’s Super Monster.
• Madison Beer’s Life Support.
• Neil Young’s Way Down In The Rust Bucket live album.