If Cigarettes After Sex front man, Greg Gonzalez set out to make an album that channelled every bit the cynical attitudes and sexual motivations of the classic 1940’s Film Noir movement, then the band’s self-titled debut album is arguably a masterclass in success.
Low-key, cigarette stained vocals that never waver far from irony set the tone of an album recorded in just three days in studio rehearsal spaces and corridors in true The Cowboy Junkie’s style.
The album has the feel of an arthouse movie, fitting given Gonzalez used to manage an arthouse theatre. When played to its conclusion you get the sense that each track has been crafted not as a complete work – although there are undoubtedly stand-out singles such as “Each Time You Fall In Love” and “Apocalypse” – but as a natural continuation of the scene before.
Even the effortless smoky musicality of Gonzalez (vocals, guitar), Phillip Tubbs (keys), Randy Miller (bass) and Jacob Tomsky (drums) act merely as subtitles to an ethereal conversation of love, composed in all its aching melancholia.
This sense of filmic continuation makes Cigarettes After Sex a challenging album to listen to in its entirety without losing yourself in its ambient stirrings that nod to Mazzy Star and Joy Division’s Atmosphere. But if you are willing to postpone the post-coital languishing that the album inevitably inspires there is a lot to find beneath the covers.
Take the opening scene, “K”, a drawling acoustic single that feels every bit the cinematic expression of blossoming love. Taken within the context of the album however it has a mourning that belies its wistful romance. A simple drum beat is matched by the chime of strings reminiscent to the metallic, echoed guitar picking of Hank Marvin, creating a visual feast of teenage longing and second glances.
“Each Time You Fall In Love” is equally haunting, repeating the same slow, sucking vocals that pull you into a shimmering pool of electric guitar riffs sitting quietly just below the surface. You can’t escape the filmic visualisation of songwriter Gonzalez; in fact you can almost feel the breeze being created by his hypnotic androgynous vocals.
Tracks “Sunsetz” and “Sweet” are marginally more upbeat, a tender reprieve with a dreamier feel to the previous tracks’ distinctly ghostly veil. Neither, however, wander from the Film Noir genre completing the illusion of an album created as the band’s secret place, outside the realms of time and space.
Of all the album’s tracks, “Apocalypse” is by far the most stand-alone, like a scenic climax only halfway through the album. A BBC 6 playlist favourite, “Apocalypse” delivers a killer hook of a chorus that ironically gives it a lighter feel than the rest of the album, despite its cataclysmic title.
But then this is an album full of ironic twists of splendour including the band’s version of REO Speed Wagon’s “Keep on Loving” delivered with durgelistic triumph.
“Truly” and “John Wayne” are beautifully indistinguishable from the rest of the album but “Opera House” is more emotional still with vocals drawn out to provide the melody that underscores passionate, almost possessive lyrics.
Only in the dying scenes of the album, delivered by tracks like “Young and Dumb” do the Texas four-piece even attempt to lift the curtain on this dark, brooding smoke-filled project. When they do, we find razor sharp wit and sarcasm lacing lines like – you’re a patron saint of sucking cock – suggesting that Cigarettes After Sex are perhaps having more fun than they care to admit.
Cigarettes After Sex is out on the 9th of June via Partisan records, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Leander Hobbs