By Alex Platt
It is 2017. The question on everyone’s mind is ‘Is romance dead?’. I seem to encounter some form of the question wherever I go; as I’m walking down the road, carefully navigating my way through the rigid bodies of 20-somethings as they stand stock-still in the middle of the pavement, their thumbs a whir as they swipe left and right through tinder until the inevitable “there’s no-one new around you message” appears (lets face it, there hasn’t been anyone new around you for some time though has there?); as I’m sitting in a restaurant and a couple on the table next to me are engrossed in an intense but obviously pleasurable conversation, their eyes locked on each others, their brains whizzing around each new and exciting subject they greedily gobble down during their conversational feast, before one grabs their phone to further explain or back up an earlier point and someone else (some complete, utter fucking moron) in the restaurant films it and tries to make a social commentary video about how we’re all ‘addicted to our phones and we should spend some more time with each other because I actually have no friends of my own please be my friend could you get off Facebook even though that’s where I’m going to share this video about Facebook and be my friend please friend PLEASE’. When I encounter situations like this (yes, it does happen more often than you think) it always makes me wonder, sometimes to myself, sometimes out loud, is romance dead? Then I listened to the new debut album by American dream-pop band Cigarettes After Sex. Then I got my answer.
But I’m not going to give it to you so easily. You’re gonna have to read the whole review. Cigarettes After Sex have been around for a few years now, quietly and slowly releasing the odd single and EP here and there, so the album has been a while in the making. I, specifically, have waited a life time for it, having become obsessed with the band since I first heard their beautiful cover of REO Speed-wagon’s ‘Keep On Loving You’ while driving home from a Godspeed You! Black Emperor show through the night of London. The music fitted the journey perfectly, and I’ve never looked back. That was a fair few years ago, and now the full album is here. Rejoice!
The album opens with the song ‘K’, which the band had also released as a single, but it’s a perfect opener, telling a story about two people in lust with each other who suddenly discover that maybe there are more than just carnal, animal feelings involved, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Cigarettes After Sex manage to make their songs sound like they could either be drenched in warm California afternoon sunlight or caught in the middle of a downpour as you turn the collar of your raincoat up and light another smoke, straight out of a pulp fiction novel. What’s even more impressive is that they manage to do this for 11+ songs without the novelty wearing off, or the music sounding boring and repetitive (despite them all actually sounding very similar). This is partly down to Greg Gonzalez’s voice, which is completely gorgeous. It croons its way out of the speakers and slowly serenades itself into your ears with a tenderness akin to being wrapped in silk and then laid down on a bed of cotton wool. The man could tell me that he’d just murdered my entire family and that I was next but as long as he sang it at me I’d bloody well let him. I’d probably enjoy it too.
The songs on CAS debut album illicit feelings of pure love but are occasionally undercut with a taught bitterness. There is love here, sure, and sometimes it’s so sugary it’s hard to keep down. Take the song ‘Sweet’ with its chorus of “It’s so sweet, knowing that you love me, though we don’t need to say it to each other” and the repeated line of “I’d gladly break it, I’d gladly break my heart for you”. Or the song ‘Opera House’ which is about Gonzalez’s undying and unequivocal love for someone “I got a love for you I just can’t escape, all of my love for you cuts me like barbed wire. Ooh I was meant to love you and always keep you in my life. I was meant to love you, I knew I loved you from first sight”. This is pure, unadulterated sap, and I know a few people it would make physically sick just hearing about love in these terms (if they’re reading this I’m so sorry about all the vomit there’s now presumably all over your computer screen) BUT there’s also pain here too. The song ‘Each Time You Fall in Love’ is an ode to learning from your past mistakes and trying to make sure you don’t repeat them. The album’s closing song, ‘Young and Dumb’ is a lament to a relationship gone sour from a lack of love (“Well I know full well that you are the patron saint of sucking cock. Señorita, you’re a cheater, but so am I”). These songs, interjected into the romantic ballads, are what keep the band so interesting to listen to. Those lyrics, combined with Gonzalez’s voice and the ambient plucks and reverb soundscapes of the guitars and steady war march of the drums and pounding, rhythmical first-date heartbeat of the bass, are what make Cigarettes After Sex a leader in the dream pop genre, despite still being fairly new to the game. If they try and branch out and start experimenting with new sounds for the next album I’ll be a happy bunny, however if they make another one just like this? I’m gonna be a happy bunny either way.
So, in answer to your question at the beginning; Yes, romance still exists. Cigarettes After Sex are making damn sure of that.