One of the great success stories of the past decade is Cigarettes After Sex, which started off as a dorm-room project of Greg Gonzalez. Without any support from a label, Gonzalez and his band’s success grew through the internet, as their hazy, immersive cinematic-pop was endlessly played on YouTube, SoundCloud, and every streaming service imaginable. What’s even more impressive is that their popularity has increased through a measured approach. From the band’s founding in 2008, they had only released one EP (2012’s I) and a handful of singles. That was until last Friday when their eponymous, debut album finally was unveiled to the world.
As is the quartet’s trademark, Cigarettes After Sex is one, long, scintillating affair. Calm, gorgeous, and often breathtaking, the record is something to behold. The LP is filled with stunning love stories (as oppose to love songs) as well as beautiful recollections of heartbreak, despair, and anger. In other words, it is like the movie Love Actually put to music with each song telling the tale of one person or a couple.
The opener, “K.”, is the album’s highlight. The stark orchestration is sublime, giving the song a bedroom intimacy and providing the perfect canvas to Gonzalez’s story of the perfect couple’s relationship coming to an end. Sonically, though, the song is like a long, beautiful kiss goodnight that you never want to end. The stirring “Apocalypse”, likewise, adopts a similar warmth. The instrumentation is subdue and bordering on ethereal, fill the air with a lush, romantic vibe. However, a as is Gonzalez’s tendency, the song is filled with remorse and desperation, as it tells the tale of couple who have been torn apart. “You’ve been wanting you forever and you just can’t say goodbye”, Gonzalez sings passionately.
Cigarettes After Sex head in a film-noir direction with “Each Time You Fall In Love”. A darkness lingers throughout the song, giving the band’s lush approach a brooding and even gritty vibe. Gonzalez’s vocals, though, remain inviting, and they bring us next to him as we follow the downward spiral of man who has fallen in love with a woman he cannot have. Adding to one’s lust is the seductive “Sweet”. But unlike its companions, “Sweet” is a ballad addressed to Gonzalez’s love. “Knowing that I love you, running my fingers through your hair, isn’t it so sweet?”, he croons in his soft vocals.
The melancholic “Flash”, though, offers a momentary reprieve from the love-centered album. It is also the album’s darkest and most bone-chilling number. As the dissonant guitar echoes in the background, Gonzalez’s vocals become even softer and more delicate, as he reveals the secrets and demons haunting a young woman. “You have to do the right thing”, he repeats as if he’s the protagonist’s conscience. The album’s closer, “Young & Dumb”, adopts a similar tone. This time, however, Gonzalez takes on the role of a person who has been cheated on. “You’re the patron saint of sucking cock”, he says out loud on this song that is essentially a character assassination of a person (or persons) who has her own interests in mind. Despite the more aggressive tone, Cigarettes After Sex are still able to make the song sound dazzling.
But it is songs like “Opera House”, though, that have contributed to the band’s rise. Pensive, intricate, and personal, the song is a solitary journey into one’s emotions. The slight hum of the dissonant guitar, the purposeful rhythms, and slight presses of the keys create a languid atmosphere for Gonzalez’s vocals. “I was meant to love you. I knew I loved you at first sight”, he sings with a whisper. These lines may be directed to someone in Gonzalez’s past, yet for thousands of people these fourteen words represent their feelings for a band just hitting their stride. A band that has delivered one of the most stunning and intimate albums of the year.
Cigarettes After Sex is out now via Partisan Records. The band is in the midst of a massive world tour. Dates can be found here.
Cigarettes After Sex are Greg Gonzalez (vocals/electric guitar/acoustic guitar), Phillp Tubbs (keyboards), Randy Miller (bass), and Jacob Tomsky (drums).
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Featured photo by Shervin Lainez
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