Music Reviews

The Monochromatic Universe of Cigarettes After Sex’s CRY

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Genre: Ambient Pop

Favorite Track: “Don’t Let Me Go”

It’s frankly surprising that Cigarettes After Sex didn’t make a Roadhouse appearance in TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN—their signature synth sound feels plucked straight from the eponymous series’ soundtrack. The darkly ambient pop group, led by singer-songwriter Greg Gonzalez, has been gaining traction since their self-titled debut in 2017, and when you combine that sound with an on-brand, highly personable social media presence, you’ve got yourself a buzz-worthy band that has staying power in today’s world of fleeting indie successes. For their follow-up, CRY, the group voyaged to the Spanish Island of Mallorca to record the nine tracks, and it’s a vibe—at this point, if Cigarettes After Sex has one thing going for them, it’s vibes. Oh god, I can’t believe I actually just typed that.

Cigarettes After Sex has a certain essence. Gonzalez’s voice has a hypnotic, androgynous quality that pairs perfectly with the band’s spidery guitar lines and sparse drums, evoking the bleary-eyed love songs of Mazzy Star and Mojave 3. The songs channel intense emotions of lust and desire, and not just a drizzle here and there—they’re downright drenched in them. The hauntingly beautiful opening track “Don’t Let Me Go” is easily the best on the album. “When I was young, I thought the world of you,” Gonzalez begins. “You were all that I wanted then.” This is when Cigarettes After Sex is at its most tasteful and refined, evoking the starry-eyed romanticism of first album tracks “Sunsetz” and “Sweet.”

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In fact, many comparisons can be made between the two albums. And it goes far beyond the phenomena of some insufferable hipster groaning “All of their songs sound the sameeee,” complete with a five-minute eye-roll. The truth is, the two albums sound remarkably similar. Those who have committed their entire discography to memory (re: me) should be able to distinguish which track belongs to which album, but even then, it’s hard. I actually have to give credit to Gonzalez for being able to keep track of all these songs that sound the same. If Cigarettes After Sex has introduced a new color to their world of charcoal and ash, its a barely discernible taupe. But the dilemma? It still sounds so good. Sonically, CRY is painting with 50 shades of grey.

Now for the bad news: Lyrically, CRY is painting with FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.

In a piece for Talkhouse, legendary French singer Francoise Hardy gushed over the band’s sound, sharing that it was the music “which I have been looking for all my life.” However, she  also revealed that she didn’t understand the lyrics because she’s not fluent in English, although she was “sure they are as inspired as the rest of the band’s sound.” The problem is: they’re not. If one was to unlearn the English language and simply hear Gonzalez’s dulcet vocals as a series of languid vowels, then what we have here is a gorgeous collection of melodies that few can criticize. But at times, the lyrics on CRY can really mess with—you guessed it—the album’s vibe.

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“Kiss It Off Me” is perhaps the worst offender: “Saw you on the side of the road / I could see you walking slow, drinkin’ a Slurpee / In a peach baseball cap, fallin’ in my lap / You were so thirsty.” And then, as if things couldn’t get any more awkward, Gonzalez follows up with “Know I make you forget / About all of those rich fuckboys.” The lyrics break the gorgeous illusion the music creates, which seems to lend itself to more sophisticated subject matter. Another instance is “Hentai,” in which Gonzalez regales a time when he told his lover about a hentai video he watched right before they had sex for the first time… For those of you not familiar with the term, it’s anime porn, and while he never mentions it again, it makes you feel slimy for the rest of the song. Maybe even the rest of the day.

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Perhaps that’s the entire point, the silly secret behind the group’s virility and memorability. The lyrics of CRY, at best sickeningly sweet and at worst downright cringe-worthy, form an impression in a way that most indie guitar pop bands don’t. Can you name a Beach Fossils lyric right off the top of your head? How about Real Estate? Wild Nothing? For better or for worse, Cigarettes After Sex’s lyrics are easy to grasp onto, to get stuck in your head as you complete life’s mundane activities.

CRY shows no signs of evolution for Cigarettes After Sex, but then again, it never promised any. All it promises is a passionate one-night stand, a single evening on a stormy beach. A step into a monochromatic universe where rain isn’t just rain, but the sky’s lovelorn tears. A place where a cigarette after sex is the most beautiful goddamn thing in the world.

Claire Epting
Claire can be found at a coffee shop/craft fair/woodland forest near you. Follow her as she attempts to craft playlists to soundtrack every moment of her life as if it were an indie film.

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