Boy, when El Paso’s Greg Gonzalez sat down and comprised the concept for his band Cigarettes after Sex, he must have really thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. He must have been like, wow, my sexual escapades really have an endless amount of poetic qualities and idyllic musical vistas crystallized into them. That and I listen to a lot of The Velvet Underground’s self-titled album.
His band, which is apparently based in Brooklyn though originally from Texas (they’re a little more Lou Reed than Steve Earle, without question), is back for this sophomore LP Cry doing basically the same thing they’ve been immersed in from the start: crooning out transcripts of bedroom encounters over gentle rock and roll, which, anchored by organic, live drums and copious guitar, retains just enough of a retro, throwback aesthetic as to grant the music character.
Retro in m.o., that is, this band is definitely not, remaining obstinately, almost obscenely sexual, which ends up being to their credit, truth be told, especially in the department of originality. Opening two tracks “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Kiss it off Me” set the tone nicely with some amorous mourning and frankly, a little more vulnerability of which I’d prior thought Gonzalez capable, in songwriting. “Heavenly” is equally gorgeous, which of course is a relief, resting on just a couple more minor chords than its predecessor brethren but still hewing out a hopeful tapestry of romantic bliss, as is this band’s general default. But this band is all about texture, just as much as it is topic, and “You’re the Only Good Thing in My Life” right away earmarks a key skill at work of maintaining freshness and variety on a rock album. In the intro to this song, the guitar, through effects, finds a way to be both crisp and also watery. The sound strikes the listener as new at this point, the beginning of track four, which is a key part on any album in terms of holding the listener’s interest. Also, the snare drum in itself is remarkable almost for its lack of distinction — it’s almost profusely tense and flat, more like knuckles tapping on a table than a strike of a skin. This gives the music freshness and hipness, something it couldn’t get by without.
Just getting back to the main point about this band, though, “Pure,” not really to say “shocker,” is the best song on the album and also the most overtly sexual, Gonzalez unabashedly crooning out the chorus of “But it’s pure / Only your love could get me to fall / When it’s deep it gets to hot / And it’s so beautiful”. Um, this probably isn’t music for listening to on a drive home from church. Still, Gonzalez sounds so genuine and is so subsumed in these catchy songs he delivers, both for their selfsameness across albums and for the fact that nobody else does this stuff, that it’s certainly easy to envision numerous bands drawing influence from his cavalier emotional looseness and vivid storytelling. Now, attempting to reach the crisp pop perfection they pull off all over their LP’s, that might be a taller order.