Cigarettes After Sex ‘Cigarettes After Sex’ – Review

19 Aug

Cigarettes After Sex have one of those provocative band names that ensures you will listen to the music, just to see what kind of people belong to that kind of name. In this case it’s both a perfectly fitting one (their songs are often about sex, though rarely about cigarettes) and totally ironic – their music is slow, unfussy and measured and generally in no way as attention grabbing as their name is.

Cigarettes have a carefully crafted and clearly defined aesthetic that has already been honed over an e.p and series of singles. They don’t deviate from that here. Five years after that e.p, the album is as measured and assured as you would expect. The ingredients that make up any given song are always the same; seductive vocals, hushed tones, subdued beats, reverb drenched swells of guitar, ambient synths and almost overwhelmingly romantic lyrics. Their sound fits in to a sweet spot somewhere between Mazzy Star, The XX, Rhye and Galaxie 500 but to their credit is far more original than that description would imply.

That is largely down to voice and lyrics. Unlike the instrumentation, lead singer Greg Gonzalez’s voice isn’t touched by reverb. Instead his crystal clear, somewhat androgynous, singing is made the focal point. His melodies are gorgeous and serve to highlight the lyrics which, for better or worse, necessarily do a lot of the heavy lifting. The innocent/naive/affected (depending on your perspective) position that Gonzalez adopts in these songs will not be to everyone’s taste but there is a singularity to his perspective across ten, largely similar, songs that makes ‘Cigarettes After Sex’ stand out.

They say the devil is in the detail, and Gonzales paints in broad strokes whilst remembering to zoom in on the nuances and particulars that make relationships unique. Opening track ‘K’ establishes the template. The scene is set (Gonzalez and his lover, sitting in a restaurant on the lower east side, waiting for the cheque) then the conflict is described (falling in love with someone you’ve been having casual sex with) and then comes a concise summary of his emotions for the chorus. Most songs come with the same mixture of hyper nostalgia, seedy romanticism and precise emotive power. Sometimes the imagery verges on the creepy (‘watching the video of you in the red lingerie, ten times nightly’ ‘you are the patron saint of sucking cock’ ‘you show me your tits on the swing set at the old playground’) but Gonzalez manages to sell it with his seductive voice and admirable honesty.

Cigarettes After Sex’s slow burning love songs have proven to be surprisingly popular – their videos have tens of millions of views on youtube (considerably more than, say, The Killers new singles) despite the band’s relative obscurity. The interest was cultivated in typically modern ways – YouTube recommendations, Spotify playlists and TV soundtracking. The group, or rather their management, smartly licensed the band’s music to tv shows so that these songs soundtracked several sultry moments of your favourite shows.Rather than being a detriment, that’s actually where these songs work best. Isolated individually and accompanied by strong visual images, the music really does come alive. Heard as a pack of ten, melodies, arrangements and lyrics start to feel interchangeable by the end and the overall effect is somewhat dulled. But that precise aesthetic and commitment to consistency is one of the band’s key selling points. You won’t hear many debut albums that sound as confident or assured as ‘Cigarettes After Sex’.

8/10

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