Cigarettes After Sex: comfort listening
Not every album has to blow minds, to change the world.
Sometimes a set of songs can be the sonic equivalent of a much loved T-shirt, perfect for a Sunday morning sofa session. They can be comfortable and familiar and have so many good memories associated with them that you forgive them the fact that they have nothing new to say.
If this sounds like I’m trying to convince myself that this is enough, then it says a lot about how I feel about Cigarettes After Sex‘s self-titled debut album (listen on Bandcamp here).
It’s an undeniably good record, especially if you’ve ever felt some kind of love for the quieter end of The Velvet Underground or their many, many indie and alt-country descendents.
Musicaly, it’s all beautifully spindly guitar ballads as far as the ear can hear, with a dub-like tendency for all but the bass and drums to drop out behind the vocal, giving the songs a quiet-quiet-quiet dynamic.
And boy, those songs are good! CAS have been going since 2008, and it feels like songwriter-in-chief Greg Gonzalez has waited until he’d accumulated a really good crop before dropping this debut.
Lyrically we’re in bohemian romance territory, of course, with the occasional startling shift like the Fitzcarraldo references of Opera House or the doomsday mutterings of Apocalypse to leaven the sweetness.
The songs are almost good enough to save Cigarettes After Sex from its main weakness – that of being in thrall to a particular well-trodden post-Velvets style. As it happens, that’s a style I love: many of my favourites down the years (Madder Rose, Orange Juice, Low) have built on it.
But this is comfort listening. And much though there’s nothing wrong with that, and although this album’s on heavy rotation round my way, I keep coming back to the idea that imitation – the reduction of music to an exercise in style is the end of any meaningful artistic progression.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a style I like – which in the case of Cigarettes After Sex I very much do – the point still stands, pretentious though it may be. An lovable vintage T-shirt of a record it might be, but we need more than this if we’re going to make it through.