If ever a band’s sound is matched so perfectly to the name of the band itself, it’s this one. Cigarettes After Sex’s music is cinematically seductive and intensely visual – a description that would certainly please film-obsessed, lead singer and band creator, the androgynous-toned Greg Gonzalez. Founded in 2008, in El Paso, Texas by Gonzalez, then a student at University, the Cigarettes After Sex project was somewhat an accident.
Gonzalez was experimenting with recording songs with spacious sounds in a four-storey stairwell at the University. Those recordings went on to appear on the first Cigarettes After Sex EP, “I” released in 2012. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that the public became aware of Cigarettes After Sex when the sublime “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” became a phenomenal online sensation and this ambient, film noir pop band released their first album in 2017. To date, Cigarette After Sex’s masterful self-titled debut has sold over 550,000 records (streaming equivalent that is), amassed over 360 million Spotify streams and 350 million YouTube streams – some eight years after those humble recordings in a Texan university stairwell. In addition to being a critical smash and streaming juggernaut, the record landed the band dates on five continents along with festival slots from Primavera and Best Kept Secret to Lollapalooza and Reading & Leeds.
After decamping to Mallorca the very same week as the debut album was released in 2017, Gonzalez and his bandmates -Jacob Tomsky (drums) & Randy Miller (bass) consciously let the striking location guide the initial sessions for their follow-up album – “Cry” which is released via Partisan Records on 25th October. “The sound of this record is completely tied to the location for me,” Gonzalez explains. “Ultimately, I view this record as a film. It was shot in this stunning, exotic location, and it stitches all these different characters and scenes together, but in the end is really about romance, beauty & sexuality. It’s a very personal telling of what those things mean to me.”
That marriage of sound and setting is certainly the heart and soul of “Cry”. Fully immersed in the moment, with no distractions or preconceptions, Gonzalez – along with Tomsky and Miller, and keyboardist Phillip Tubbs—were free to explore the material together in dialogue with the house’s exotic surroundings and with each other. “Everything happened very naturally and very quickly in Mallorca,” Gonzalez says, “but then those instrumentals sat on a shelf for two years while we toured non-stop.”
It was nearly impossible for Gonzalez to find the kind of quiet, reflective time necessary to write lyrics while touring so heavily, but the inspiration he gathered and the experiences he collected during those two years came tumbling out when he finally returned home to New York City in late 2018 and he composed words for the entire album over the next few months in another concentrated burst of creativity. The hypnotic “Don’t Let Me Go” (which was actually recorded separately in a church in Germany) is a truly lovely album opener – tender and unhurried. Echoey guitars and steady beats of drum provide a dreamy backdrop to a nostalgic, heartfelt vocal from Gonzalez who sings of longing for the chance to tell an old flame he wishes her well. “When I was Young, I Thought The World Of You/ You Were All That I Wanted Then”… The washes of synth and reflective guitar notes add a poignant, emotional atmosphere and the song’s beauty is in its portrayal of yearning, human honesty.
“Kiss It Off Me” is muted and subdued with swirling synths and the throb of a guitar. The narrative behind the song blurs the story between reality and fantasy. There is a beautiful restraint to the song as Gonzalez asks: “Kiss it off me, If you gonna break my heart, this is a good start, Kiss it off me” whilst the uplifting “Heavenly” is a change in tempo for Cigarettes After Sex with cool snare drum beats, innocent and appealing. The synths swell with perky percussion to create that wonderful feeling of being in love. Utterly gorgeous.
A sultry electric guitar leads “You’re The Only Good Thing In My Life” with an opening lyric that symbolises lust: “You only fuck for love, told me you could never get enough.” This is a song about giving in to forbidden desires, of abandonment and passion – “Everything is wrong but it’s alright, You’re the only good thing in my life” whilst the heartrending “Touch” is a portrayal of two lovers perpetually on different pages played out beautifully with resonant guitars and husky vocals.
Next track “Hentai” is simply stunning. It’s not every day that the watching of Japanese pornography is referenced to as an opening line but this is what makes Cigarettes After Sex’s music so special – passion is never cheap or tacky in their hands. There is such a tranquil, oriental beauty to this song. “Hentai” is a delicate description of the dark thoughts, the mad thoughts we have when we are in love – “Told you I wanted, to die in an airplane crash/Over the ocean, that it was romantic/ But you didn’t like it, though it was stupid, thinking of me dead, is making you feel bad/ Beautiful hearts are in your eyes/ I’ve been waiting for you to fall for me and let me in your life”. It’s an exquisite portrayal of love, central to the album’s theme of romance and sensuality and an album highlight.
Title track “Cry” is awash with warm and rich electronica and lazy, lush guitar chords as Gonzalez tells the tale of a man who cannot commit. His honesty is heart-rending as he sings: “ But I need to tell you something/I just can’t be faithful for long/I swear I will only make you cry” making an unsympathetic statement sound quite reasonable. Even the guitars sound sorrowful as they weep with Gonzalez’s melancholy vocal.
Current single “Falling In Love” is a touching tribute to long-standing relationships as Gonzalez recalls how he and his then-girlfriend would go and see a movie at the same time, even though they were in separate cities with atmospheric synths playing out to cool drum beats whilst closing track “Pure” slinks along with snatches of snare drum and spangled guitar notes – an erotic swan song – both lyrically and visually.
“Cry” is a compact, near-on perfect collection at just nine songs and whilst the album doesn’t mark a massive change in sound or direction from its predecessor – Gonzalez always makes it so much more to listen to. “Cry” is a slow, sonic catharsis on sex and romance, of love and lust. The reward comes with repeated listens as each song stands up on its own merits – haunting and hypnotic.