Cigarettes After Sex’s music is reminiscent of slow dancing at two in the morning in your bedroom with the lights turned off. The softness of Greg Gonzalez’s voice and the lingering caress of the guitar’s reverb are grounded in the steady heartbeat of the song, forged together by the drums and leading bass line; the result of which is the creation of this intensely intimate atmosphere. On top of that, their lyrics demonstrate the band’s ability to make songs that are simple, yet heavily poignant — perhaps because of the ease with which they evoke powerful feelings, such as nostalgia and longing, through relatable, painful anecdotes of past love.
Cigarettes’ new self-titled album comes five years after their LP I. (2012) and two years after their EP Affection (2015). While it retains the essence of their previous music, it isn’t simply a copy-paste of their earlier work. Their new music demonstrates a development in and deeper exploration of their sound and style.
As a whole, the album is heartfelt and sentimental, but not naive. On tracks like “K.” and “Sweet,” Gonzalez seems more of the lovesick, hopeless romantic archetype. “K.” is a track dedicated to the feeling after a usual fling, where you end up surprisingly wanting… more. Meanwhile, “Sweet” is a syrupy-sweet ode to pure, simple love; it follows the narrative of the singer watching a series of videos, the star of which he absolutely adores.
However, the doe-eyed perspective on romance seems to shift on other tracks such as “Each Time You Fall in Love” and the stunning “Apocalypse.” The former is a ballad to unrequited feeling, which contrasts with the track previous to it in sequence, “K.” Sometimes there’s something deeper there, but sometimes there just isn’t. Cigarettes also shows a development in their sound on this track through the addition of strings, which creates another depth to their ambient feel. “Apocalypse” is a departure from their lighter, simpler pieces and a straight dive into the dark imagery they’re capable of, as seen from previous songs such as “I’m A Firefighter” off of 2012’s LP I. This track paints a dramatic, chaotic scene of destruction via crumpling landscapes in order to construct a metaphor for a lover haunted by past trauma. What’s stunning about this song in particular is its simultaneous complexity of meaning through the use of simple language: “Got the music in you baby / tell me why. / You’ve been locked in here forever and you just can’t say goodbye.”
The album concludes with two tracks dedicated to young love, with “John Wayne” acting as a nod to the naiveté of teenage optimism: “Baby, he’s got to be crazy / Living like he’s John Wayne / Always facing the world and chasing the girl.” On the other side, Gonzalez acknowledges the foreignness of first love and the inevitability of error that comes with it, “He’s got so much in his heart / but he doesn’t know what to do. / All he wants is her / lying inside his room.” The last track on the album, “Young & Dumb,” is a complete 180 from “John Wayne” in its role as a surprisingly raunchy satire about the superficiality of youth, ending the entire album on a light note.
Even though Cigarettes’ music can seem simple on the surface, it holds a hidden dimension of complexity beyond that, whether that be through its impact on the listener from sheer feeling, or through the darker facets of romance they may reference through thinly-veiled metaphors. Their music hurts, soothes, and loves, replicating life — which may be why we keep coming back for more.
Written by Vivian Chen