Updated: Oct 10, 2020
A look at why the 2017 debut album from Texas dream poppers Cigarettes After Sex is already an unexpected modern-day Indie Rock classic.
Dream pop is exactly my kind of vibe of late, recent-ish albums by Beach House, Warpaint, Slowdive and Washed Out have all become big favourites during Lockdown, countering the faster-paced songs I'm normally used to. With that said, I've fallen in love with one Dream-Pop album again this week, coming to realise that it's one of my favourite albums of the last few years; Cigarettes After Sex's 2017 self-titled debut. It's 47 minutes of absolute bliss.
Battling the Glasgow rush hour traffic one typically rainy January evening in 2017, I was getting more and more frustrated at the lack of movement ahead of me. With the radio on in the background only there to fill the void of silence, suddenly a luscious guitar sound caught my ear. The soft and seductive non-genderised vocals (is it a man? Is it a woman?) complimented the softly-tapped drum kit over a delightful melody. Upon completion, "'Affection' by Cigarettes After Sex" was read out by the Disc Jockey whose name escapes me. I desperately logged onto YouTube that evening to learn more about them.
'Cigarettes After Sex' is a ridiculous and, funnily enough, a very appropriate name for this band, it's exactly the activity you can imagine this band soundtracking. The Texas band, formed in 2008 in El Paso by Greg Gonzalez, certainly took their time to get noticed. After the above mentioned standalone single in 2015, they released their self-titled debut album in June 2017. It's an album, that, over the coming weeks, months and years, I'd return to time and time again, falling in love with songs that sound as fresh as the first time I'd heard it. The melodies are THAT addictive.
The reason for that addiction is obvious on the first listen of 'Apocalypse', their most played song on Spotify with 118 million plays (and counting...). It opens with a dreamy, reverbed riff with a noir feeling wrapped in melancholia, before Greg's voice brings an added romance to proceedings (the chorus of "Got the music in you baby, tell me why / You've been locked in here forever and you just can't say goodbye" being a particular highlight on the album).
The album itself opens with the 'K.', a song describing a one-night stand turned romance and the later yearning for this former lover's return. Again, the reverbed guitar, loud, sparse bass-line and longing vocals matched the content within perfectly. 'Sunsetz' is another favourite, again focusing on that sense of desire for an ex-girlfriend ("When you go away / I still see you / The sunlight on your face in my rear-view"). In fact, most of the songs are about exactly the same topic, sounding eerily similar in both sound and subject. Problematic? Thankfully not!
Everything about this band tells me not to like them. First up is the name which treads a thin line between quirky and ridiculous (and memorable?). The fact that most songs sound very, very similar (I do feel sorry for the drummer in this band and his repetitive low-key drumming). How the lead singer acts like he's just discovered the opposite sex with lyrics that can, on occasion, be extremely questionable ("My lips, my lips, apocalypse" from 'Apocalypse'). But despite all that, I still possess that desire to head back and listen all over again.
'Young and Dumb' is a blissful end to the album, though the lyric "Well I know you are / The patron saint of sucking c***" only just avoids ruining the near-perfect melodies. Guardian music writer Alex Petridis was of similar mind in his 2017 review, undeterred by the occasional childish line, viewing it as one of 2017's best records.
"This is all clearly offputting (referencing the above mentioned line in 'Young and Dumb'). It says something about how engaging the sound is, how strong the songs are melodically, that it doesn’t spoil the album at all. Occasionally coming up with embarrassing, even inadvertently creepy lyrics is something a writer might well grow out of, although the question of how Cigarettes After Sex’s sound might subsequently develop is intriguing. Musically at least, theirs is one of those debut albums that seems to have arrived fully formed, not a hair out of place, which traditionally means development is an issue. Time will tell whether this is as good as Cigarettes After Sex get, but for now, it’s undoubtedly good enough: close your ears to the occasional lyrical gaffe and you might have one of the debut albums of the year." Alex Petridis, The Guardian (June, 2017).
Somehow, brought together, it all fits together perfectly. The melancholic, longing sounds of Cigarettes After Sex are proof that mastering your melodies can, indeed, trump deep lyrics and musical variety. The Noir Dream-Pop vibe is everything, unexpectedly become one of my favourite albums of the last few years.
Apocalypse, Sunsetz, K.
Best to listen when...
You're sitting up at 3am heartbroken and questioning the meaning of life, or are just wanting some relaxing, lush melodies in the morning as you slowly awaken.
Well, they released their second album Cry in October 2019. It's more of the same, another bliss-filled listen ('Don't Leave Me Now' and 'Falling In Love' have everything you would expect from a Cigarettes After Sex song). Latest single 'You're All I Want' was released on 4 May 2020 and is also well worth checking out.
Now, how about another listen of 'Apocalypse'? Sure, why not.