Brooklyn slowcore act Cigarettes After Sex released their first EP in 2012. At a total running time of under twenty minutes, the four songs would be many listeners’ introduction to the group’s unhurried, dreamy, resonant, lovesick style. And with cover art featuring a Man Ray photograph below the band’s name (printed in the exact same font used on Joy Division’s Closer LP), it’s easy to understand why curious fans of moody post-punk embraced the entire package.
After the 2012 EP, it would be another three years before fans would get any new music from Cigarettes After Sex, that music being the single for “Affection” whose B-side included a distinctly original, drastically slowed-down cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You”. It would be another two years later that the band would finally release their first self-titled full-length album.
“K.”, the new LP’s first single and opening track, finds Cigarettes After Sex wisely grasping for, and handily recapturing, the initial feel of their 2012 EP’s lead-off song, “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby”. This time, however, the band’s sound is much cleaner. Every carefully strummed string can be heard, and lead singer Greg Gonzalez’s hauntingly androgynous voice is pushed to the front of the mix. It’s a thrilling start, and any question as to whether better production would dampen the magic the band captured five years ago is immediately dissolved.
Sexual obsession is a theme throughout the album. Whether he’s watching a video of a woman showering or staring longingly at photographs, Gonzalez prosaically describes intimate situations, relying heavily on near-rhyme to more succinctly depict his characters’ feelings and actions. Whether intentional or not, most of the songs on the album written from a first-person’s perspective detail ambiguous scenarios that can either be interpreted by the listener as the thoughts of a lonely outsider whose love has gone unrequited, or a brokenhearted, charming, lovesick playboy who desperately wants to reconnect.
Gonzalez’s songwriting isn’t all sexy, self-reflective infatuation, however. “Each Time You Fall in Love” has the singer describing a friend being taken advantage of by a woman, and the stellar “Apocalypse” describes a crumbling cityscape, contrasting horrific images of crashing helicopters and hiding people in hollowed out pianos with a surprisingly uplifting chorus wherein Gonzalez optimistically sings, “Got the music in you baby tell me why, you’ve been locked in here forever and you just can’t say goodbye.”
The record’s halfway point is reached with “Flash”, an R&B ballad that starts like Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red” before quickly turning into a dreamy appeal for a lover’s deliverance. “You’ve got to do the right thing, do the right thing, baby, you’re the white swan in the photograph,” Gonzalez sings over a hypnotic guitar refrain. The songwriting takes an imaginatively inspired turn during “Opera House”, a song sung from the perspective of a Fitzcarraldo-like character who describes wanting to build an opera house in the jungle for his sweetheart.
The record’s final three tracks bring things to a tidy and unpredictably heartening end. Both “Truly” and “John Wayne” roll plaintive verses into similarly optimistic choruses. The album’s finale is reached with “Young and Dumb”, a climax that has the band at their most buoyant and comically profane both musically and lyrically. “Well I know full well, that you are, the patron saint of sucking cock,” Gonzalez sings during the song’s pre-chorus before delivering the lines, “You want to go, where the girls are young and dumb, and hot as fuck.”
There’s not a lot of variation in tempo or style from track to track on this collection, but given the band’s obvious dedication to their presentation and musical themes, it’s near-impossible to imagine Cigarettes After Sex attempting anything that might be played in a Zumba class. Also, the word “baby” is uttered more often than “cream and sugar” at a coffee shop, but, again, this is easily forgiven as most of the album’s lyrics are uniquely memorable, creative, and appropriate given the context.
Five years is a long space of time between albums for any new act. It’s easy to imagine the band’s members anxiously wringing their hands prior to this record’s release, hoping their fanbase would still be there when they reemerged. Thankfully, the material presented on their full-length debut is as strong as anything Cigarettes After Sex has delivered and was well worth the wait.