Nervous Curtains Calculate Infinity

Sean Kirkpatrick and I are talking at a table at Strangeways, a brick-heavy East Dallas bar with '80s dance music blaring from a speaker and Smiths posters decorating a wall. The Nervous Curtains singer and keyboardist looks like he might be a fan, but some people are touchy when you tell them that, so I don't bring it up. I just point at the wall and say, "Smiths, huh?"

I instead ask about the video for "Moody Photos," Nervous Curtains' recent anti-party video, shot with a Flip cam and cheap tripod. The look and feel make it seem like it could have played right after Morrissey's "Suedehead" video on 120 Minutes, circa 1992. The loose plot: People dressed in dark colors stand around at a house party, act bored, do drugs, play records. If you're of a certain age, you certainly relate to the tedium.

"You know, I'm older now, and when I go to a party, it's out of obligation, and I'm uncomfortable and ready to go the whole time," Kirkpatrick explains. "So it was just my experience of a party."

That anxious feeling is sort of the crux of Nervous Curtains' aesthetic and sound, delivered via two synths and drums. Lest that sentiment paint Kirkpatrick as a Gloomy Gus, it lends itself to the nostalgic gaze of the trio's latest album, Fake Infinity, the next chapter after 2010's debut, Out of Sync With Time. That album was loosely based on neurological disorders, especially those British psychologist Oliver Sacks wrote about. Some themes: Strokes and frontal-lobe seizures making people lose track of order in their lives, hearing audio hallucinations, intense forms of nostalgia that cause present discomfort.

Nervous Curtains lean toward the darker arts, sure. And whereas Out of Sync With Time was Kirkpatrick trying to find his way with a backing band, Fake Infinity is more rooted in a central concept and sound. "It's the End of Eternity" is the centerpiece of the album, and Kirkpatrick's blueprint for a time and a place.

"I wanted to create this world inside the album that would be Fake Infinity," he explains. "A lot of it has to do with the way I saw things when I was younger. There's a certain invincibility I felt then, in my early 20s. This idea of having a bright future ahead of you, certain glimpses of euphoria I had at that age. A lot of them were ego-driven, some were chemically derived.

"But a lot of that tied into summer, too. That carefree time, that sense of idealism. Now, I hate the summer. There seemed to be this trend about a year ago, with indie-rock bands singing about the summer and the beach. That tour with Wavves and Best Coast — Summer is Forever or whatever it was called — fuck all that. So I made my summer album, what I wanted to hear."

Indeed, "It's the End of Eternity" spells that out in a rather poetic way:

Served my time in fake infinity

It's summertime in fake infinity

It's the end of eternity

There's no cover-up no conspiracy

Severed ties with the company

This violent deafening sun

This predatory sea

It's no beach party

At 20 years I was immortal too

Blissful disorientation

Cosmic radiance and all that shit in excess

Echoes crash into us

As the main songwriter, the classically trained Kirkpatrick is the driving force of the group's elegant, somber sound, but drummer Robert Anderson and fellow keyboardist Ian Hamilton save it from becoming too arch. With that minimal setup, there's still a labyrinthine feel to Fake Infinity — it's almost metal in concept, but Krautrock in its execution. This time the themes are success and failure, and the lyrics are definitely more abstract than Out of Sync With Time, but its references are grounded a bit more in reality.

"I read something about parasites about a year ago and then wrote 'Wired To Make Waves,' which references parasites, so I just latch on to certain themes."

Are you a Cronenberg fan?

"There's actually a Cronenberg reference on our first album. The song 'Accomplice' references Eastern Promises, and the line Viggo [Mortensen] says: 'I'm just the driver.'

"I wrote 'Cats in the Dark' from a quote I read by Gaddafi, about how approaching soldiers looked like cats in the dark, but it's also about possession. ... Also, while I was writing that song, there were all these stray cats in our yard and I was trying to trap them, get them to stop repopulating. It's a love song in a way."

There is a bit of a silver lining to the album's nostalgic core: "You actually can define your own life," Kirkpatrick says. "But I still want some degree of validation and success. I hate that I want that, but it's in there. As you get older, it takes more energy and it's a battle with my ego. So at some point during the recording I was like, 'OK, this is the last one. Then I'll move out to the hills.'"

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Audra Schroeder
Contact: Audra Schroeder