Eight years in the making, the debut Cigarettes After Sex album finally finds its way into the light
Cigarettes After Sex singer/songwriter Greg Gonzalez likes the idea of listening to his band’s eponymous debut album as if you’re eavesdropping on some secret thing happening. “I love Paul Simon and Bob Dylan equally as much, but Leonard Cohen—‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ or ‘Chelsea Hotel’ era—is much more in line with my identity,” he says. “There’s a different darkness and depth there. My music is really influenced by the emotions that kind of intimacy can convey.”
Gonzalez is currently on the road with his band Cigarettes After Sex, a collection of musicians that has changed membership a number of times during the eight years in which he has been shepherding the project but has solidified around the release of his band’s debut (on Partisan). After years of wandering in search of a sound—“This might surprise you, but I started out heavily influenced by Madonna’s early-’80s singles,” says Gonzalez with a self-deprecating chuckle—Cigarettes After Sex has landed squarely in the languid, hazy terrain of dream-pop forebears such as Mazzy Star, Cowboy Junkies circa The Trinity Sessions or Cocteau Twins: songs slowed to a maple syrup drip that wistfully recount any number of romantic liaisons gone by.
“It took a long time to find my voice,” says Gonzalez of his student days in El Paso, Texas, before relocating to Brooklyn around the time of the release of the I. EP in 2012. “I was recording by myself in a home studio on acoustic guitar, bass and vocals but not really capturing what I heard. I’ve always been inspired by things like Miles’ Kind Of Blue, The Trinity Sessions or even Dylan or Elvis with their session guys—ensemble records I loved where the collaboration gave it a special, spontaneous vibe. I could still lead the group and write the songs, but it needed the flavor that band interaction would provide.”
The irony is that Gonzalez’s long-form debut has all the hallmarks of a solo bedsit symphony, a barbiturate-paced essay on heartbreak in a minor key that will immediately call to mind notoriously independent solo performers such as Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek. On songs such as the first single, “K” (or the equally forlorn “Sunsetz” and “Truly”), there’s as much space between the notes as notes themselves, with Gonzalez’s sparse guitars doused in a heavy bath of reverb as his high-register vocals document a Lower East Side encounter that graduates from physical attraction to love connection before atomizing, its airy qualities disguising the brutality of the inevitable break. It’s solo music that benefits from a band’s touch, a journey that Gonzalez deliberately sought.
“The 2012 EP was the first time where the band I was playing with got the concept of ‘space,’ which is ironic because they broke apart only a few months later,” he says. “But it formed the blueprint for the album, because I was looking for players who could play simply because they wanted to, not because I told them to. I knew that’s what the music needed, but it took a whole life to find.”
Well worth the search, from the sound of it.