Monday, September 25, 2017

Album Review: Cigarettes After Sex - Cigarettes After Sex (2017)

The truth is, a grizzly middle-aged man of my disposition really has no business digging the music of Cigarettes After Sex quite as much as I do. A fact more or less confirmed when it was announced earlier this week that the band’s one-off New Zealand show at the Powerstation in Auckland in January of 2018 is going to be an “all ages” affair*.

(* postscript: the first press release announcing the gig indicated it was an "all ages" show but a later listing confirmed it as R18. Which makes more sense, for the Powerstation. The band has also been confirmed for the Rhythm & Alps festival near Wanaka at the New Year.)

On the other hand, as a fellow similarly-aged less grizzly friend recently tried to reassure me, “it’s all just pop music, you're allowed to like it, so don't over analyse it" ... which is a school of thought I can also buy into.

That said, it’s unlikely to be him that I’m standing next to at the aforementioned gig, surrounded by hundreds of spotty pre and post-pubescent teenagers intent on singing every last emotionally-charged lyric in the band’s melodrama-drenched repertoire.

But to hell with it, I love the band’s music all the same, and this year’s self-titled debut album has become a stick-on certainty to be one of this blog’s albums of the year … purely on the basis that it’s one of your pop-loving blogger’s most played albums of 2017. Which makes sense, right?

In fact, I’ve gone further back and picked up a copy of the El Paso four-piece’s debut EP, I, from 2012, and the breakthrough single from 2015, ‘Affection’, which includes an impressive super dark version of Reo Speedwagon’s yacht rock classic, ‘Keep On Loving You’, on the flip side.

The album itself amounts to ten dreamy tracks, clocking in at a very digestible 47 minutes. Everything about it is gentle and subdued, nothing is too hurried or boisterous, and it feels like a genuine masterclass in the art of creating ambient pop music, albeit pop with a slightly darker than usual hue. Echo and reverb effects are applied to guitars, the synths caress and pamper, the drumming/percussion reveals a lightness of touch, and the production has a very hazy, almost ethereal, quality to it.

Cigarettes After Sex ... the world's oldest teenagers

And then there’s the otherworldly, rather androgynous, vocals of Greg Gonzalez, which sit right at the forefront of everything. If the music is designed to partially melt into the background, the casual beauty of Gonzalez’s voice begs for the listener’s full engagement. Which is both a blessing and a curse, because where the melodies are strong and immaculately crafted, the songwriting itself proves less reliable in places.

There are a couple of quite cringeworthy moments, best forgotten about, interspersed with flashes of pure brilliance. I’m still undecided about the “your lips, my lips, apocalypse” wordplay in ‘Apocalypse’ … it’s either terribly inspired, or just plain terrible, depending on where I am, and who I’m with, when I’m listening to the tune.

There are other junctures too, where the naïve 15-year-old boy inside of me grins from ear to ear, while the cynical old man of the present day feels slightly creeped out, and shakes his head dismissively. On a couple of occasions, it’s a mixture of both reactions simultaneously – see the “patron saint of sucking cock” reference in the closer, ‘Young and Dumb’ … anyway, that might just be me, and it’s probably not worth dwelling on too much. Or as another bright spark once said, “don’t over analyse it” …

The three singles, ‘K’, ‘Apocalypse’, and ‘Each Time You Fall in Love’ are all highlights, but ‘John Wayne’ also pulls me in close when it has absolutely no right to, and more generally – save the odd moment – there’s not a bad track on a thoroughly absorbing full-length debut.

Although the album – released on the Partisan label back in June – has made little impact in the band’s home country, it reached number two on the UK Independent album charts, and peaked at number three on the New Zealand “heatseeker” album chart, presumably on the back of simmering ongoing YouTube/online exposure.

Here’s ‘Apocalypse’ …


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