Internet exposure has rarely seen the likes of the phenomenal success that came the way of Arctic Monkeys, but with the numerous ‘listening posts’ that both the web and social media now offer, the chances of being spotted and acknowledged ludicrously outweigh the ways of old. In the case of New Yorkers Cigarettes After Sex, it’s been YouTube that’s paved the way for people to sniff them out.
Whilst the new eponymous album’s lead single K is approaching 2.5million views, 2012’s Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby has amassed a jaw-dropping 58 million views and counting. A cover of REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Loving You can also boast over 16 million views and is worth a listen, as the band breathe new life into an old AOR classic that makes the song sound way cooler than it ever will on any retro radio station.
Plying their trade within dreampop ambience circles occupied by Beach House, Mazzy Star and to an extent The xx, there is an overwhelming talking point about Cigarettes After Sex. Leader and singer Greg Gonzalez is described everywhere as having androgynous vocal tones, although it’s hard to hear any masculinity in his singing voice whatsoever. It’s likely instead that something like, erm, 100% of new listeners will think the band have a female singer.
The trouble with Cigarettes After Sex is that, superficially, it all sounds the same: one-paced (slower than a funeral hearse), bass lines that could be learnt by a 10-year-old and echoey guitars that recall influences such as Cocteau Twins. This combination might send some to sleep, but the band have received praise from fans that had been suffering from sleep deprivation before listening to them. Turns out, it’s actually a bloody fantastic way to fall asleep.
If you’re listening to the record all the way through, it will be, admittedly, difficult to pick out anything significantly different about each track. But after a few plays, the songs manage to materialise from the misty mystique, forming their own identities at last. K opens the album and the first few bars of echo-laden guitar spring up initial similarities with one of Razorlight’s few worthwhile contributions to music, America. When vocals appear it’s utterly spellbinding; it’s all very Mazzy Star but instead of Hope Sandoval’s dusky tones, Gonzalez’s huskier rasp takes centre stage, and it’s a recurring scenario.
The achingly gorgeous Sunsetz – they aimed for a ‘sitting on a beach at night with a fire’ vibe which is evident throughout the album – plods along at the same pedestrian pace, but particularly captivating in addition to the vocals is some divine guitaring, even if, when melding into the next track – another single, Apocalypse – there is so little variation in the backing track that it could be the same song. The difference is in the melody, and that goes for the majority of the album – listen in closely and the melodies will appear in all their glory.
Perhaps the album’s greatest triumph is the beautifully melodic Sweet, which sounds like Cocteau Twins playing country, the heartwarming lyric of “I would gladly break my heart for you” enough to send shivers down the spine. Whilst not quite reaching the same heights, Truly is another highlight although it’s easy – like Sunday morning in fact – to hear the song as a dreampop version of Lionel Richie’s debut solo single with the same name.
There is a downside, though. With striking similarities between each song, you do tend to listen more intently to the lyrics and occasionally they sound like they’ve been written by an adolescent sex fiend, the most glaring example being Young Dumb’s soon-to-be legendary line of “patron saint of sucking cock”.
Despite these occasional lyrical shortcomings, Cigarettes After Sex have released an excellent album. After you’ve heard one song you might think the next one is similar, or even the same on repeat, but once you delve down a little deeper, you will categorically not be disappointed.