By Zach Landau | A&E Editor
Nothing can describe Cigarettes After Sex’s sound better than one word: haunting. Everything from the instrumentation to the vocals to even the promotional material would not seem out of place coming from some derelict record player found in an abandoned, condemned house.
And I love it.
All at once moody and enticing, CAS excels at creating tracks that straddle between casual noise and slow-dance classics. Its debut album of the same name establishes the band as a force to be reckoned with and a group that should not go unnoticed.
Sounds like high praise, and it is. But despite any amounts of praise I can heap on Cigarettes, the album’s overall sound unfortunately hampers the experience. CAS leans so heavily on its ambient crooning that each song blends together, creating a miasma of slow drums and plucking guitars. Hold a gun to my head and ask me for the name of a song, and I couldn’t tell you. This is an album where the trite criticism of “this all sounds the same” is actually quite apt, which makes recommending a sample basically impossible.
I also cannot really speak to the lyrical quality of the album because it, too, slowly dissolves into samey platitudes while listening. What’s there is not bad, per se, and there are those who do genuinely love the sappy romantics that go on in Cigarettes. However, there is no marquee moment to point at, no lyric or song that is the definitive CAS song.
These are not complaints, though, because they are simultaneously minor and also what make the album special. Putting on Cigarettes and just spacing out for an hour is unquestionably the best way to listen to it, with each song blending into each other until a pleasant haze engulfs your thoughts. This album begs listeners to lose themselves, offering intimate moments while also staying an arm’s distance away.
This paradoxical tone is the source of that operative word “haunting.” Lead singer Greg Gonzalez’s unique voice intrigues listeners with its warm and sultry tone, while the steady percussion and strings slow down the pace to a crawl. The whole package works together perfectly, and listening to the album can send chills down the spine of even the most jaded individuals out there.
On Gonzalez’s voice, I have to say that I don’t believe I have ever or will ever listen to something so unique and beautiful, truly. Christina Cacouris from Vice describes his voice as “androgynous;” I’ll go one step further and call it feminine. Its thick and rich tones are one in a million, and I firmly believe that Gonzalez will join the ranks of David Bowie, Freddy Mercury and Elton John as artists with unreplicable, unique vocalizations.
That alone should warrant a listen, and to be frank, I cannot think of any other way to suggest this masterclass. Like a Rothko, Cigarettes After Sex defies the written word by allowing only vague gesturing rather than pointed insights. To describe the band or the album any further requires going into minutia that few would enjoy, so suffice it to say that Cigarettes deserves a listen, as well as any praise that comes its way.