There have been rarely any band in the history of music whose music has been so well personified by its name. How does it feel like, listening to Cigarettes After Sex – like smoking cigarettes after sex. The last time a band pulled that off were the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys. The band, formed in 2008 became an online phenomenon once they came out with their single ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ in 2012. The dreamy frontman Greg Gonzalez’s sedating, sexy, sweet voice has, since then, become a hit. For many who didn’t know of Gonzalez before, it must’ve been quite a shocker that the voice behind the band was not some sultry seductive woman trying to seduce a noir film detective over the telephone, but that of a bearded, black leather jacketed man. A “bedroom voice” is how Gonzalez himself defines it – soft, intimate, romantic, the voice you’d speaking in while making love.
The band’s oeuvre shows very less prospects for variety, settling for a very distinctive style that reminds us of Mazzy Star and Slowdive. And the band looks at creating a unique style for themselves, with an almost obsession with noir everything, even their performances are published in black and white, their photographs with not a minute hint of the background – everything is painted black – their clothes, their instruments, even the Instagram page. It has a feeling very unique to say, Instagram itself, or a Wes Anderson movie.
But Gonzalz is no romantic, he just wants a lot of sex. He’s “always dreaming of sex” as he sings in ‘Sesame Syrup’. All their songs are about sex, if you listen to them closely, if you don’t, then they’re about love. Cigarettes After Sex is bringing romance to all the no-strings-attached relationships, so it’s the last song you should make love to, in case you are engaged in such a relationship. Greg Gonzalez is Vladimir Nobakov with a guitar – unabashedly horny and hopelessly romantic at the same time, with the characteristic drool bass of Randall Miller and Jacob Tomsky’s very minimalist but effective drum kit. In ‘Young and Dumb’, Gonzalez sings “well I know full well that you are the patron saint of sucking cock, Senorita, you’re a cheater.” I don’t think I’ve heard such a beautiful reference in the last five years, even in politics or a Martin Scorsese movie – the patron saint of sucking cock.
With music like ‘Apocalypse’, ‘Sunstetz’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’, ‘Affection’, their music really penetrates into your bedroom, when you’re all alone, in a very haunting fashion, irrespective of your relationship status. You’d connect with their music like you’d connect with an Edward Hopper or a Rene Magritte painting, like a teenager would connect to Travis Bickle, a middle aged working person with Walter Mitty. The Japanese say that we have three faces – one we show to the world, one we show to our close circle of friends and family and one which we never disclose to anyone. And that face is not always your usual adverse conclusion about human nature, that we are all horrid deep inside, it is what Thoreau wrote about, in Walden, that the “mass of men lead lives of quite desperation” – the piercing feeling of loneliness that weighs on us at nights, despite being in the happiest of relationships, or having the most amount of wealth, food, sex. Cigarettes After Sex is there, at the revelation of your third face, “Oh, when you’re all alone, I will reach for you. When you’re feeling low, I will be there, too” Gonzalez sings, in Apocalypse.
Their music has a resounding ability of permeating and understanding its listeners. It might not even be fully intended by the band, given that they only write and sing about sex – but their fans are sure to make more of the music than just sex. The music is so personal that you’d want to be either all alone while listening to it, or be with someone who feels as lonely as you do. My dream concert of Cigarettes After Sex is them singing to me and my girlfriend dancing, and that was previously reserved for Lenard Cohen (now that he is dead). It is the loneliness and emptiness of the soul that the band connects with – a reverberating music for the soul. With time, they prove to be reliable go-to artists in times of misery and not many artists become worthy of that honour in your lifetime, and definitely not collectively for so many people at the same time. Gonzalez takes great pride in the fact that his music helps people fight depression and anxiety, and fall in love and enjoy life all through the same music. And that is what great music is about – being extremely personal, only to the listener. That they have managed to bring out such emotions out of people with such lusty lyrics is quite a remarkable feat.
With very less features and interviews, the band still remains a sleeper hit. But that’s probably because they aren’t exploiting their new found fame well enough. They still largely remain popular over YouTube which is sad given their huge potential. But the world definitely wants to see more of Cigarettes After Sex.
Swagat Baruah is writer/editor for Catharsis Magazine.