Words About Music
Cigarettes After Sex is a New-York-via-Texas indie pop band led by vocalist Greg Gonzalez, who initially started the project almost ten years ago as a college student. In 2011, the Gonzalez recorded the band’s debut self-titled album, which established Cigarettes After Sex as a cult favorite; a slowcore band for young Beach House fans. I don’t think this album ever saw a proper release, but it is available for listening on YouTube. In 2012, the band released its first official record, the beloved “I.” EP, before a few years of radio silence.
The band returned in 2015 with the non-album single, “Affection,” but honestly, I never gave Cigarettes After Sex a good, honest listen until the recent release of its first proper, also-self-titled album. In 47 minutes, the band establishes a definitive sound, with Gonzalez’s lightly-roasted tones ringing the bells of vocal androgyny. Think Rhye without the cloudy R&B aesthetic.
The record kicks off with the 5.5-minute “K.,” a song about a casual relationship which sours when Greg, the vocalist/protagonist, finds that Kristen, the song’s “K.,” loves him. They separate, and Greg finds himself missing Kristen quite a bit later on down the line. The song sounds like it’s relaying a loving relationship, but I think the track is actually just Greg lamenting what could have been if he was in the right headspace when the two were at their emotional height. There are touches of shoegaze-y guitars, present bass lines, and lightly-tapped drums. It’s an unassuming, smooth track with a good flow to it, but it does have an air of predictability to it. I feel like I’ve heard this sound before and better. I think there are elements of beauty to this track, and I at least like that it’s not a boring, completely flaccid song. It sets the tone nicely for what’s to come on this record, but I can’t say I’m immediately floored from the getgo.
Elements of ambient music pervade the next song, “Each Time You Fall In Love,” which sounds like it’d fit right in on the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack. It does sound like it copy-pastes the exact drum beat from the previous song, though, which causes me to fear that this entire album is going to blend together for its whole 47 minutes. The lyrics are more clichéd and less personal, it feels like, on this track in comparison to “K.” I want to like this song, as it’s one of the album’s lead singles, but I cant help but feel like it comes off like a lesser version of the album’s first track, and by the time it ends I’ve already forgotten it.
“Sunsetz” is another song I really want to like, because I do enjoy the slower-jangle-pop vibe it brings, but I cannot help but laugh at the first verse, especially the lines: “See you open your dress and show me your tits/On the swing set at the old playground.” I get the sentiment, it’s just that “tits” is not a word I want to hear from a musician who wants to be taken sort-of seriously. Apart from that, “Sunsetz” does bring one of the album’s better melodies and chord progressions on the album, and I think it does stick out as one of the album’s more unique moments. It feels like one of the band’s poppiest tracks, and it makes sense that it’s the album’s shortest.
More evocative, romantic lyricism and low-BPM-motorik drumming come into sonic view on “Apocalypse,” another song about a relationship gone sour, yet remembered fondly. Greg Gonzalez seems to have a knack for getting into subpar relationships. I mean, the album’s main refrain is “Your lips/My lips/Apocalypse,” which is just some lazy lyricism in my opinion. I think this track is, so far, the album’s most forgettable combination of slim lyrics and uncreative instrumentation, and that it’s stretched out to nearly 5 minutes is a telltale waste of the album’s runtime.
“Flash” closes off the album’s first half, continuing the same themes and sounds as have been expected on this record. If you’re looking for an album that really hones in on a specific vibe/sound, look no further than Cigarettes After Sex’s self-titled record right here. It’s the perfect “drunk-on-shitty-wine-the-night-after-senior-prom-regretting-the-thing-you-said-to-that-attractive-person” album, but that’s not what I’m trying to judge here. I’m merely trying to listen to this album and see if I personally enjoy it, not weigh it against its objective qualities and specific experiences it suits.
The B-side kicks off with “Sweet,” a track that I actually do kind-of like. It’s a catchier song with some pretty great lyrics. Again, Gonzalez is diving into some pretty sexual material here, singing about watching videos his girl sent him of her in the shower or wearing lingerie in bed, only to choose to compliment her smile and her eyes. It’s some humblebrag shit for sure, but I think this track is a more compelling combination of Cigarettes After Sex’s sound than some of the previous tracks. I like the bridge, where he sings “And I will gladly break it, I will gladly break my heart for you.” It’s a devoted, lovely song.
As if the band couldn’t slow things down anymore, “Opera House” brings some beautiful vibes as it sloths along at an even pace. The lyrics at this point are wearing on me, but I think this is one of the better songs the band sonically crafts on the album. I love the way the bass is mixed into this track and this album as a whole. I can’t stress enough how predictable this album is, though, as each track seems to have exactly the same structure. Sing the first verse, bring the guitar in on the first chorus, repeat things a bit, don’t let it get too loud, noisy, or obtrusive. It’s an intentionally inoffensive record that tries to make up for itself with gritty, raunchy lyrics, which are frequently not that gritty or raunchy.
The message of “Truly,” the next song, is that you don’t need to love Greg Gonzalez in order to fuck him, which I’m pretty sure has already been explained in a couple other tracks here. The instrumentation continues to refuse to deviate from the band’s formula. She’s on the sheets like a dirty magazine, and she’s wearing perfume, and she’s wearing lingerie… I swear, this dude’s sexual experiences are straight out of the Victoria’s Secret catalog.
The album ends on a pitter-patter of just-okay songs. There’s the forgettable “John Wayne” and the downright ridiculous “Young & Dumb.” Just imagine you’re listening to a slow, moody, ambient pop song, and these lyrics come ringing through: “Well I know full well that you are/The patron saint of sucking cock” and “You want to go where the girls are young and dumb and hot as fuck/Where they’re dancing in the streets with nothing on.” And then the album’s just over, almost an hour gone by with little to show for it.
“Cigarettes After Sex” is an album that doesn’t really justify its existence. I don’t dislike the idea of attempting a slowcore album in 2017, but there has to be more to it than overt eroticism atop literally the same instrumentation track-after-track. There are a couple high points and standout lyrics and good hooks, but this is generally an extremely middling affair that doesn’t gain much from repeated listens.
SCORE — 5.25 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — K., Sunsetz, Sweet, Opera House