In an interview Cigarettes After Sex’s frontman Greg Gonzalez gave last year – around the time word-of-mouth had belatedly turned the band’s 2012 debut EP into something of an online phenomenon – he suggested that the greatest praise he had received was from fans who’d told him that his music helped with their sleep anxiety. It’s slightly curious for an artist to be delighted when people tell him that his band makes them want to nod off, but it gives you an insight into the kind of music Cigarettes After Sex make. Hushed and subdued, every song on their eponymous debut album proceeds at more or less the same somnambulant pace, the echoing guitars and softly tapped drums gently supported by washes of ambient synthesiser.
At this point, you might be forgiven for switching off. Of late, the world hasn’t exactly suffered from a crippling dearth of US indie bands keen to let the listener know they’re fully conversant with the oeuvres of Mazzy Star, the Cocteau Twins and Galaxie 500. From Beach House to Warpaint to the umpteen bands bracketed under the sub-genre of chillwave, you’ve scarcely been able to move for cooed vocals, dreamy electronics and guitars drenched in reverb over the last decade. By rights, Cigarettes After Sex should sound like stragglers, late to the dreampop revival party; instead, they sound like the best band it’s produced.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly to do with Gonzalez’s voice, which is fantastic: so androgynous, virtually everyone who doesn’t know otherwise seems to have assumed Cigarettes After Sex’s singer was female. Where most bands of their ilk tend to bury their lead vocalist in echo, reducing them to just another component within the wistful drift of sound, Gonzalez is the centre of attention here. Cigarettes After Sex’s sound is surprisingly muscular compared to their peers – the bass is loud, the interlocking guitar lines more clearly defined than the usual haze – but there’s no doubt where the focus is. It points up the other reason they seem one step ahead: their songs are stronger than anything else that’s been released in the same general area in recent years. They work in a sub-genre where atmosphere is often allowed to trump melody, but Gonzalez’s tunes are uniformly fabulous, to the point where it’s hard to pick out a highlight. Addictive, memorable and with the potential to reach an audience far wider than the cult following that normally awaits this kind of stuff, they’re the reason why an album where every track’s sonic components are more or less the same never feels monotonous or boring.