Cigarettes After Sex

an album review by Joshua Beane

Cigarettes After Sex is the dream-pop version of The Ramones—their songs sound similar, are more or less about the same things, and are mostly around the same length. This is not at all a bad thing. These qualities give the band a purity and focus in its sound that few acts capture. Sonically, Cigarettes After Sex is much more like Mazzy Star, but having said that, it is hardly a sleepy retread of ‘80s and ‘90s dream-pop. The wistful, minimalist approach to the new Cigarettes After Sex record is a thoughtful, aesthetic decision to create something that is at once familiar and fresh, similar to The Ramones’ back-to-basics approach to rock and roll.

This year marks Cigarettes After Sex’s release of its debut eponymous full-length album. Prior to this record, the band had released a demo, an EP, and some stunningly great singles (do not allow yourself to miss out on “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You, Baby” or the cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You”). Cigarettes After Sex does not leave the sound of those singles behind, but rather expands further in the same direction.

The song “Apocalypse” is a great example of the album’s essence. It seems to float along in smoky reverie, while the lyrics softly offer the story of a person who cannot seem to break out of a less desirable relationship (“Tell me why / You’ve been locked in here forever and you just can’t say goodbye”) in favor of one that instead offers an “apocalypse” (“Your lips / My lips / Apocalypse”). I suspect that singer/songwriter Greg Gonzalez intended this as a multifaceted play on words. Their lips meeting is an apocalypse in the sense of an irresistible force, like the end of the world, but it’s also an apocalypse in the sense of a revelation or an epiphany. This is a kiss that makes everything fall into place, but also wrecks it.

Another standout track is “Sweet,” a charming tribute to getting nude photos from someone. I really love this song because it’s both frank and sentimental about a relatively novel, but still fairly prevalent, element of modern dating and relationships. Even with all this sexting, Gonzalez still sings that it’s his paramour’s eyes that really draw him in. Sweet, indeed.

In contrast to the other two songs mentioned here, “Young and Dumb” is lyrically as ambiguous as it is musically foggy. Parts of the song seem to exist as a series of insults delivered in Gonzalez’s trademark candy-shell falsetto (chorus: “Well, I know full well that you are / The patron saint of sucking cock / Señorita, you’re a cheater / Well, so am I”), but other lyrics seem to indicate that he isn’t that serious about it after all (“Faking the teardrop by spraying my eye with that water gun”). It is a really fun chorus to sing along to, particularly if you’re in the car with someone who has never heard it before.

Perhaps androgynously sung ambient pop is the new punk. Or maybe Cigarettes After Sex is just a really satisfying alternative to the latest microwaved batch of some other genre’s leftovers. Either way, I bet you will enjoy it.