Back in 2017, Cigarettes After Sex brought noir dream-pop back to the spotlight with their self-titled debut album. Their atmospheric take on ambience is definitive of the contemporary alternative music landscape and echoes the melancholic perplexity experienced by the youth — dark, smoky, sensual. Their sound is sweet and hazy, complemented by frontperson Greg Gonzalez’s heavenly androgynous vocal. They capture the sentiments of those long and lonely nights that are bound to inevitably follow after chaotic breakup sex. While their debut album generally received critical acclaim, critics also called into question what else the band has to offer. While Cigarettes After Sex delivers a cohesively cinematic film-noir experience, it also comes off as monotonous and repetitive in terms of style and composition.
With Cry, Cigarettes After Sex remain firmly in their sweet spot while opening up a dreamy mesh of sensual possibilities. Within the first few tracks of the album, the band reinvented themselves with a lush of liveliness. The on-beat bass and drums in “Kiss It Off Me” are reminiscent of the sound of a pounding heart during intimate moments. The ephemeral spacey synth riff before the bridge elevates the sentiments to a miraculously unearthly state. Toward the latter half of the track, the groovy guitar melody adds poignant textures to the layers of dreamy synth pads. The first single “Heavenly” is tied together with a bassline that bears resemblance to The XX’s unique blend of minimalism and grooviness. The playful and experimental guitar melodies on the track reflect the more prominent shoegaze influence on the album. With vocal lines that stress less airy ambiance and emphasize more emotional profusion, the sound is more sentimental and less vicarious. Their new sound is less refined like scenes that are meticulously staged in a David Lynch film with implicit iconographies. Cry’s grooviness delivers raw emotions that were unheard of on their first album. While structure-wise Cry has less control over the cinematography than their self-titled album, the delivery is emotionally more cinematic and climatic.
The album gradually delves into the world of libidinous erotica in the form of lullabies, a field of expertise for Gonzalez that is often disguised in the lush of dreaminess. The mid-album highlight “Hentai” is perhaps the most explicit song the band has ever released. “Hentai” deals with his reminiscence of how he opens up about his porn-watching experience and his hentai fantasies during his first sexual encounter with a woman. Fetishism remains an often overlooked yet prominent feature of Gonzalez’s lyrical delivery. While a heterosexual white man’s narrative of his love life may not be the most exciting at first glance, Gonzalez’s androgynous vocals and his stream-of-consciousness-like lyrics make up for his limited portrayal of his love and sex life.
Building on their strongholds in their niche of noir dream-pop, Cigarette After Sex reinvents themselves with a tint of enthusiasm intertwined with the lush of bemusement. While Cry still delivers the band’s signature cinematic film-noir style with prominent features of their Mazzy Star influence, the refreshing record proves that the group is not a one-trick pony but a band with a diverse range to showcase that can retain their cult-like hipster fanbase.
Stephen Yang is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]