Cigarettes After Sex

A crap name need not necessarily hold a band back. Coldplay are doing OK, U2 have shifted quite a few units. Still, unless you are completely without prejudice, you can be put off. I once skipped an early Manchester appearance by Vampire Weekend because I did not like their name – a truly regrettable decision.

Happily, my introduction to Brooklyn band Cigarettes After Sex was having their superlative 2015 single ‘Affection’ quietly worm its way into my head during repeated play on 6 Music. When I finally caught the band’s name, it didn’t matter.

On paper a four-piece, Cigarettes After Sex give every impression of essentially being a one-man enterprise, such is the dominance of Greg Gonzales’ deliberate vocals, each word carefully intoned. And sure enough, he also plays guitar and writes all the songs, I see.

Gonzales names among his influences Twin Peaks singer Julee Cruise. The release of this album soon after the return of David Lynch’s dependably surreal drama is apt, as his band has a slow ambient sound that would appear to be tailor made for a residency at the Twin Peaks Bang Bang Bar.

Several years in the making, the self-titled Cigarettes After Sex debut is a dreamy soundscape to lose yourself in. The arrangements are appealingly spare – nothing is included that need not be there. And the lyrics, which seem to largely revolve around Gonzales’s romantic and sexual (mis)adventures, are never less than interesting. Last track ‘Young & Dumb’ is arguably cheapened by a crude repeated phrase, but it is certainly memorable.

Try to resist enchanting recent single ‘Apocalypse’, a mid-season contender for song of the year. The first time I heard it I thought I was listening to Beach House, a band Cigarettes After Sex superficially resemble (albeit the latter are far less reliant on synths). Both bands have androgynous-sounding singers. Having mistaken Beach House’s Victoria Legrand for a man, I initially thought Gonzales was a woman. Time to get my hearing checked.

Does the singer’s gender make a difference? I know it shouldn’t, but lines that once sounded seductive have taken on a slightly different meaning. For example, when Gonzales sings “I know you want me” on ‘Apocalypse’. On some level, I feel like I’ve been tricked. But perhaps it’s good to be challenged in this way.

Cigarettes After Sex is a special, addictive record. Its few minor blemishes – ‘Flash’ is a bit dull – are paradoxically made more prominent by the many highlights: the downbeat Beach House mimicry of ‘Sunsetz’; the gently soaring choruses to ‘Truly’ and 2016 single ‘K’, which evoke a range of conflicting emotions; the woozy bliss of ‘John Wayne’; the delightfully tender ‘Sweet’.

My only real gripe is the inexplicable omission of ‘Affection’, which could have slotted into the album neatly and edged things even nearer to perfection. Just imagine if the Beatles had failed to include ‘Strawberry Fields’ on ‘Sgt. Pepper’! Oh, wait…

Release Date 9th June 2017 (Partisan Records)

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