Like a storm building on the horizon, it's hard to stop the impetus that is Aaron Rosell (keyboards & auxiliary) and Shawn Bortel (drums & percussion) of First Dates. The Minneapolis-based instrumental duo takes pieces built around beats created by Bortel and/or melodies by Rosell—and as two people would discover how a tentative first date might play out—they allow feelings to unveil themselves as the songs evolve.
The two friends met circa 2005 when Bortel was working as a youth director for a band in which Rosell played drums. This musical friendship led to an improv jazz group under the guidance of Bortel, but with new jobs and college and distance filtering in, the two lost touch. Almost a decade later, with Rosell out of college and back in Minnesota, he received an invitation in February of 2014 to join Bortel in a new improv-based group—and things naturally fell into place.
Releasing their debut album, Awkward Conversations, in the fall of 2016, the duo created a space that is infused with feeling, ruffled with ragged edges, and displays humanity at its most vulnerable. A collaborative effort, Awkward Conversations is so overwhelmingly dense, it envelops its listeners entirely. Some songs sway, some songs pulse, but each one hums deeply—as if the two were able to tune into the circadian rhythms of a mysterious machine buried deep underneath the earth’s crust.
It’s not often you find an album as breathlessly immersive as this. Drawing from influences such as Dave King, MuteMath, Sigur Rós, and Phish, the six songs are real, and the duo has used the past as a clear starting point from which to spring forth. It’s apparent listening to their album that for Rosell and Bortel, 2016 will be an extremely momentous year, as they have effectively channeled the fabric of their experiences into their work. Beneath the lighthearted friendship and minivan jokes, this is a group that is just starting to figure out how far they can go.