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“Looking back on Cigarettes after Sex after Five Years”

I still remember the day in June of 2017 when I first heard the self-titled debut from El Paso’s Cigarettes after Sex, an album I’d end up granting a 10 out of 10 on this site. The only song I’d heard by them at the time was a single called “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” (and yes I thought the singer was female but that’s beside the point I guess). I already liked the band, quite a bit, on the strength of this one 2016 single, finding them to sidle up pretty closely to The Velvet Underground in style, but with a distinct kind of patience and attention to sonic detail that seemed to infuse the music with an alluring sort of gravity.

Putting on Cigarettes after Sex on Spotify, right away, during “K.,” I was overcome with gratification, thinking, yeah, the vibe is there, big time, and I get a whole album of it. And it was just what I needed. I’d just got home from my job cutting grass for the city of Terre Haute, temperature somewhere in the ’90s with the kind of humidity that makes you question your spiritual beliefs. I sat back on my couch in my living room of my apartment, my window air conditioner buzzing in the background, and just took this sucka in, all in one sitting, barely moving a muscle the entire time, probably. 

Cigarettes after Sex is one of those albums that’s like a dream. It plays along with hypnotic moxie, so that it becomes tough to identify single songs. Listening to it, you’re likely to slip in and out of consciousness, in a sense, to see your mind roaming in 80 different directions, but, most importantly, to pledge allegiance to sound, to intimacy, to directness and an ode to the art-rock canon of yore. 

The one exception to this phenomenon of lulling me into a state of half-consciousness, I would have to say, was the song “Sweet.” “Sweet” clambers in at track six, rife with sexual themes, with the seediness of the social media age (repeatedly singer Greg Gonzalez references erotic videos sent to him by a significant other, meant, undoubtedly, for no one’s eyes but his). These types of lyrical manifestations bespeak the fact that it’s simple, slow rock music coming out in 2017. So does the production of this album, which has a spare way of spotlighting the instruments in a way that makes them all really clear and noticeable. The result of this minimalist approach to production is that the music exudes confidence and purpose. The band is, with steady hands, guiding us to their very distinct, conclusive sort of vision, which happens to still, pretty much, represent, to me, the ideal sonic tapestry for those insufferable Terre Haute summers.

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