Cigarettes After Sex’s self-titled album is ‘sweet’

Image courtesy of deepskyobject via Wikimedia Commons.

Driving through the windy roads of my hometown in Florida, I found myself lost in avenues of thought. Windows down, the breeze rushing through my blonde hair, I decided to revisit Cigarettes After Sex’s slow, romantic self-titled album. I hit play on “Sweet,” and my car sound system blared the moody, magnetic bass, transporting me back to the summer of 2017 when this album was first released. Back in the year of oversaturated Instagram photos and Ed Sheeran songs on the radio, I reminisced on how naive 14-year-old me was. As I hummed the soft melody, I was reminded of my eagerness to explore what high school had to offer. In the same way that lead singer Greg Gonzalez employs a sentimental feeling with his words, the album leaves me feeling nostalgic and hopeful for the future all at once.

My rediscovery of this ethereal album was similar to my ever-evolving discovery of myself in college. The leisurely and melancholic tempo, coupled with Gonzalez’s hypnotic voice, immediately draws the listener into a faintly lit bar, clouded by delicate smoke, where it encourages you to ponder upon lost love affairs while sitting on a barstool. This ambiance is achieved by both their music and band title. With an upcoming North American tour on the way, I’m left wondering if the band’s self-titled album will sweep the setlist in the same way it swept the dream-pop teenagers of 2017. 

The entire album tells the story of Gonzalez’s infatuation with a woman named Kristen and how their relationship slowly shifted from casual to significant. The opening track “K.” not only symbolizes Kristen’s initial, but also the cold abbreviation of “OK.” The song is dedicated to her and details their origin story as it sets up the album. Gonzalez describes Kristen as a muse who inspires his artistic endeavors, making him yearn for her attention more. The song ends on a note that is equivalent to an ellipsis: “Stay with me/ I don’t want you to leave…” The vocals come to a whisper as the guitar takes over, leaving the audience wondering if Kristen felt the same as our lead singer or if the title hints to a rejection.

Gonzalez consistently uses imagery to paint pictures of the landscape he is creating with the album’s sound. In “Apocalypse,” he opens the story equating the end of the world to the painful conclusion of his new lover’s previous relationships. Even though each has ended in a tragic heartbreak, she should find peace with him and start anew. Mixing both sensuality and melancholy, the band creates an atmosphere of sorrow that leaves the listener at peace rather than in tears. Gonzalez cleverly states, “You leapt from crumbling bridges watching cityscapes turn to dust.”

He later continues this narrative in “Each Time You Fall In Love” as he reminisces on the pitfalls of his past relationships, seemingly contradicting the optimistic statements made in “Apocalypse.” But much like young love itself, the album is full of flaws that add an unfinished, personal touch to each song. It feels as if the listener has opened Gonzalez’s diary and flipped through the pages, delving deep into his innermost thoughts. Although the album’s core motif is romance, its genre is far from that of corny love songs. Instead, the solemn themes seep into an intoxicating atmosphere with biting lyrics that transport the listener to a gray afternoon, locked away in your room. 

The entire album is sonically cohesive, and each of the songs melodically blends into the next—so much so that the listener is left wondering when the previous song ended and the new one began. You could easily put the record on shuffle to fall asleep to, or press play in your headphones and drown out the world around you. Front to back, “Cigarettes After Sex” allures listeners everywhere with an ambient, dream-like hit.

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