“I’m sort of over it,” Nick Curran says about Movement – Stereoma’s soon-to-be released shape-shifting set of synth-pop songs. “I’m already looking to the next thing.”
It’s not surprising that Curran is looking ahead to the next project. The themes on Movement are pretty heavy. It’s as if Curran has spent years inside an amusement park for the anxious, jumping on and off mood swings and riding emotional rollercoasters. Movement is a whirling, manic, emotional record that took years to finish. One that brings a chapter of Curran’s life to a close.
Movement– which spans eight years of Curran’s life – was completed in DIY bedroom studios with almost zero budget and was written using material from demo tapes (in various stages of completion) that Curran recorded over the years, alongside some newer songs.
Stereoma began a little more than two years ago as a solo project for Curran. He released the EP I Will Be Your Friend in 2014 and later brought in Brad Topping – his lifelong songwriting partner – as well as Josh Wood on bass and Caleb Lewis on drums. Curran has known Topping since high school, and they’ve formed a musical bond over the years.
“I’ve flat-out told him ‘I can’t do this without you.’ He completes me,” laughs Curran. “Each of us brings some stuff to the table. I’ll usually have some rhythm guitar stuff and I might have an idea for a lead and he’ll just take that and run with it and make it his own.”
The lush sounds on Movement require a full band to flesh out Curran’s arrangements, but it’s his lyrics that really shape the album. Movement is Curran’s race to outrun the ghosts of his past that relentlessly pursue him. It’s like a mental breakdown that you can dance to.
The album opens with the rocker “Tell Me No” – a response to Curran’s near-death experience from a blood infection.
“I really thought I was going to die,” says Curran. “[‘Tell Me No’] was my way of dealing with that – facing the possible end of my life.”
Movement surges forward with rushing waves of emotion. The title track features the manic energy of rock guitars, swelling synths and pounding rhythms resembling early MGMT synth-pop.
“I have this anxiety that drives this music,” says Curran. “I’m not really able to write anything that’s really mellow at this point in my life. I think anxiety is a symptom of the age we live in.”
“Just as Well” is the oldest track on Movement – a leftover from Curran’s previous band Selah.Selah, and Curran’s three-year-old daughter’s favorite song.
“She cracks up every time I scream. So it’s, like, hilarious to her,” he says. “I actually run songs by her. Like if she doesn’t dance to it, I usually just scrap it.”
Curran’s life as a stay-at-home dad suits him. The futuristic synth and bass-heavy “Smallest Spaces” is about finding peace in isolation. Curran sings “the past is the past/ but it’s a rabid beast/ and I keep running and running in circles/ I feel safe / I feel saved in the smallest of spaces/ give me a small little box / so I can close out the world.”
Movement continues its deliciously dizzying dive into Curran’s subconscious with the confessional ballad “Dirty Drunk” – an exercise in exorcising the demons of the singer’s past – which is followed by the paranoid hangover vision “This City is Death.”
Michael Stipe emerges as a savior of artistic integrity on the song named for the R.E.M. singer, which is about how quickly people trade true art for temporary fame. The song ends with the last syllable of the word “themselves” morphing and bleeding into “sell, sell, sell, sell….”
The penultimate track – “Comfortably Lonely” – finds the singer nonchalant about his jaded, isolated lifestyle. ”I’ve got cigarettes for smoking/A fifth of gin in my fridge/Bad poetry to guide me/Inner voices that never quit/And I’m comfortably lonely/But I don’t really give a shit.” And later…”And I’m trying to explain/that it’s all gonna be ok/but who am I trying to convince?”
The album comes full circle by closing with another track about denying death. “Not the One” – the newest track on Movement– features Beach Boys-style harmony and a George Harrison-like guitar riff. “Not the One” takes a page from the songbooks of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and George Harrison, who both had penchant for writing sunny-sounding pop songs with darker undertones. Curran sings “I’m not the one who died/ I’m not the one who laid down in your grave / I’m not the one you tried to save / You’re still lost now all the same.”
“I used to end records with really heavy songs,” says Curran. “Now I’m trying to leave things on a positive note.”
For Curran, “Not the One” is an upbeat ender. And it is a good ender. It’s a song of survival.