by Jen Bender (@JennifaBenda)
Dynamic duo Karla Bernasconi and Abby Black, members of the Chicago-based band Date Stuff, have compiled a sound equal parts turbulent and warm in their 2017 self-titled EP release. Black’s meticulous, mathy drumming compliments Bernasconi’s often-ethereal vocals and guitar melodies in a way you might not expect. As I sat and listened to Date Stuff with the bitter January wind howling outside my window, I let Bernasconi’s sweet voice and dreamy guitar melodies whisk me away to somewhere warmer, only to be brought back to Earth again and again by Black’s rhythmic quips. I wasn’t complaining.
The EP opens with “Crumb Kitchen,” a track which builds upon itself with ebbs and flows of rhythm and melody. The opening riff is peppered with interjections that somehow still maintain a sense of belonging. Rapid changes in tempo and feel, all facilitated with focus and without hesitation, guide the track to its conclusion all too soon. “Crumb Kitchen” almost feels like several songs in one, returning momentarily to previous musical moments before boldly moving into new territory; and yet to separate these sections without considering the way they mesh would diminish the overall impact of the track. Maybe the same could be said for Bernasconi and Black - they each contribute something unique to the music when their skills are considered separately, but are most powerful when sounded together. The second track, “Salmon,” is similar to the first in its exploration of dynamic rhythm - the guitar moves from quick melodic bursts to smooth waves, elusive and yet always present; listening is almost like trying to snatch a wriggling fish from water. Just when you think it’s still enough to catch, it darts away to somewhere new, urging you to chase it.
In the third track, “Long Con,” Bernasconi sings her way through the ins and outs of love with a tenderness that does not undermine the power in her voice. She touches on themes familiar to most of us, such as the love and concern we feel for our friends, or the fear of abandonment that often accompanies romance. Her lyrics dance around a definition of love that is multidimensional and human - she reminds us of a balance of joy and fear, of a yearning to get high and kiss our friends but also of anxious glances in the dark to make sure our partner hasn’t left our side in the middle of the night. The EP closes with “Reptile Tent,” another track which builds upon new rhythmic ideas as it progresses while returning time and again to familiar riffs, never wavering or losing focus. Again the musicians display an incredible sense of connection as they navigate the tempo changes and shifts in pulse, always in time. I like to picture the two of them playing side by side, catching each other’s eyes before a dramatic change in meter, maybe throwing each other a smile when they know they’ve nailed it.
In any given moment, things can change - with the world in its current state of turmoil, many of us navigate our day with this thought in our heads. It is a sentiment captured perfectly by Date Stuff’s compelling sound. Black and Bernasconi demonstrate predictable unpredictability, executed neatly and skillfully with each turn of phrase. Somehow, knowing that this feeling of uncertainty can be transformed into something as beautiful and interesting as this EP is a comfort. The chemistry between the band members is consistently present in their work, and the album is a fun listen from start to finish (though “Long Con” is a personal favorite) - give yourself some time take a listen, and then to listen again to catch what you might have missed the first time.