12 Revolutions of 2017: Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

The guitar, delicate as gossamer, washes over you. The bass sways gently across your bows. Greg Gonzalez’s whispered, smoky falsetto glides into place, a swell of strings rising in the distance. The opening of Cigarettes After Sex’s eponymous debut carries you away. Floating out here in the calm, dark, bottomless waters we spy the beautiful and bloody shards of memory, of love and lust, both fulfilled and unrequited, both won and lost.

Take album opener K, an obsession confessional, a dark lust letter to an itinerant lover. The story of a half-remembered love and the hope that a relationship could bloom from a casual fling: “And on the Lower East Side you’re dancing with me now/And I’m taking pictures of you with flowers on the wall/Think I like you best when you’re dressed in black from head to toe” but as it becomes clear that this affection may not be returned, a desperate, almost sinister tone appears: “Think I like you best when you’re just with me/And no one else…”. This is a track, which revels in its ability to first enchant and then unsettle:

Musically, Cigarettes after Sex are firmly entrenched in classic shoegaze, their influences – the somnambulant, reverb heavy guitar of Mazzy Star, the hushed, brutal vocal harmonies of Slowdive – are obvious and recent years have brought a swathe of revivalist bands for this genre. What makes this band stand above many of their peers is the ability to fit more subtle pop hooks into 5 minutes than most manage across an entire recordApocalypse, an action movie as an allegory for a relationship is carried by Gonzalez’s wonderfully expressive voice holding your attention like smoke rising on the horizon. Buildings crumble, cities turn to dust and the flood waters rise because “Your lips/My lips/Apocalypse.”:

There are songs here that linger like the first touch of a lover, desire and trepidation pulsing through their fingertips like an electric current. It is a record entrenched in moments, stealing youthful kisses and amplifying them with a cinematic approach. Take the closing track Young and Dumb, which on the surface appears to be about fucking and not give a damn, there is a sudden and moving scene that betrays a deeper affection: “We’ll drive your car to the beach//with the song on repeat, oh baby//my heart is racing watching you kiss my guitar”

Cigarettes after Sex have made an album for those late nights, laid on the sofa after the party ends. Those times, half-dreamt, when you can’t sleep from the alcohol and adrenalin but can no longer move. When memories flash before you wild and unbidden, good and bad, right and wrong, yet all delivered with equal violence. While it’s not a perfect record – sometimes the lyrics are a little trite and there is surely room for greater musical variety – it’s a perfect record for this time.

[Image sourced from https://www.postergully.com/products/cigarettes-after-sex-wall-art-artist-yash-guwalani]


12 Revolutions of 2017: Neil Young – Hitchhiker

Difficult, uncompromising and brilliant, David Briggs and Neil Young were the contradiction that ruled rock in the 1970’s. After meeting by chance in the late 60’s, they made some 18 records together, spanning more than a quarter of a century and were so productive that we’re still uncovering the great forgotten moments now. The aptly named Hitchhiker – Briggs met Young when he picked him up hitchhiking – was recorded in one evening back in 1976. 10 songs produced as straightforwardly as you can imagine, just one man, his guitar, and a lot of drugs. This is an album that eschews polish in favour of authenticity, songs half-wrought and visceral in their despair and intimacy.

Much of what appears here turned up in one form or another at a later point in Neil’s career. The opening salvo of Pocahontas and Powderfinger, which would elevate the 1979 LP Rust Never Sleeps, are stripped bare here. The latter, a peculiarly dark and lucid tale of pastoral loneliness, glows with a supernatural grace without the warm chunter of guitar and melodious backing vocals laid down by Crazy Horse.

The brilliance of these tracks is a testament to Brigg’s enduring philosophy of music production: “You get a great sound at the source. Put the correct mic in front of the source, get it to tape the shortest possible route — that’s how you get a great sound. All other ways are work.”[i]

This simplicity is something which is intrinsic to this record including the two previously unreleased tracks. Opening with a stoned giggle, Hawaii seems to depict a surreal dream conversation with a stranger, held together with straggling guitar and broken falsetto. Give Me Strength is an altogether straighter effort as Neil seeks stoicism in the dark hours of the night, the harmonica’s baleful lament close but soaring away: “The happier you fly/The sadder you fall/The laughter in your eyes/Is never all/Give me strength to move along/Give me strength to realise she’s gone.”

Briggs and Young were always an unlikely pair of bedfellows. Two people who seemed intolerant of so many other people yet who, as producer and musician, could barely be parted. It was, in many ways, this intolerance that drew them together. Perhaps, they were the only 2 people who could stand up to each other. As Neil Young himself admitted: “David was usually right, and when I disagreed with him, I was usually wrong.”[ii] Somehow, they always seemed to get the best out of each other – as on Campaigner, a song already released on the 1977 career retrospective Decade, is the highlight of this record, where it seems to have found its natural habitat. Lyrically, it is classic Young, somehow both contradictory and candid: “I am a lonely visitor/I came too late to cause a stir/Though I campaigned all my life/towards that goal.” It is astounded and confounded by living and finds beauty in the most unlikely corners:   “Roads stretch out like healthy veins/And wild gift horses strain the reins/Where even Richard Nixon has got soul/Even Richard Nixon has got soul.”

Even if by some strange quirk you already own most or all of these songs, Hitchhiker is worth the effort. It does what Briggs did best, it captures a moment. In this case a late evening in Malibu in 1976 when one of the finest musicians of the last century was at the height of his powers and sat down and sang 10 songs that would echo through music history.

[i] “Shakey, Neil Young’s biography” Jimmy McDonough ISBN 009944358

[ii] “Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream” Neil Young ISBN 0399159460


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