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]