Two years after their critically revered debut, Brooklyn-based dream pop darlings Cigarettes After Sex have resurfaced from the touring circuit with another smoldering collection of libidinous lullabies and tales of nicotine-stained regret. Following last year’s soft-core single “Crush”, its hypnotic B-side “Sesame Syrup”, and a breathtaking rework of Brooks and Dunn’s smash hit, “Neon Moon”, frontman-guitarist Greg Gonzalez and company mine similar territory to their last LP with varying degrees of success. For those fans fearful of a dreaded sophomore slump or a radical overhaul of the band’s signature sound, this summer’s Lynchian lead single “Heavenly” set the tone for everything that was to follow. Nothing has been fundamentally altered on the group’s follow-up Cry, which in turn proves to be both its strength and its Achilles heel.
Conceived during night time sessions in a mansion on the Spanish Island of Mallorca the same week their 2017 debut dropped, Cry‘s nine tracks remained as instrumentals for years until lyrical inspiration arrived. Influenced by the films of French director-screenwriter Éric Rohmer and inspired by a budding romance, Gonzalez gradually added text to each song as the band toured the globe. “The sound of this record is completely tied to the location for me,” Gonzalez said. “Ultimately, I view this record as a film. It was shot in this stunning, exotic location, and it stitches all these different characters and scenes together. But in the end, [it] is really about romance, beauty, and sexuality. It’s a very personal telling of what those things mean to me.”
While the band’s previous opening track “K” lured the listener into some sensual, smoke-filled boudoir, Cry‘s anemic “Don’t Let Me Go” feels like a discarded demo reaching for Julee Cruise-esque heights, or even Cigarettes After Sex gone karaoke. From the moment the static synth appears, and the familiar strains of Gonzalez’s guitar begin to strum, one is left wanting more from an opening statement than this. Pleasant yet innocuous, the song’s simplistic melody and love lost, love regained sentiment simmers instead of ever boiling over. Like a nocturnal emission, that erotic dream may have been arousing during REM sleep, but you wake up to cold sheets, without a lover by your side and laundry to do the next morning. There is simply no pay off here.
The sooty grey, film noir aesthetic so prevalent on their debut returns with “Kiss It Off Me”, a song that could easily be the lyrical cousin of its delightfully smutty predecessor, “Young & Dumb”. Gonzalez sings, “Saw you on the side of the road. I could see you walking slow, drinking a Slurpee. In a peach baseball cap, falling in my lap, you were so thirsty. Could you love me instead with all the boyfriends you get? Will I make you forget about all of those rich fuck boys?” Poetic profundity this is not, but then again, the band has never been about plumbing the depths of the human soul. It’s about mood, whether that be capturing the essence of an intimate tryst, painting scenes of searing heartache, or merely waxing nostalgic. The track drifts by like a light fog in the morning light, slowly disappearing as if it had never arrived.
The album’s third song “Heavenly” was rightfully crowned “Hottest Record” on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show when it materialized in late August. Multiple spins later, this is the one number that sinks its sharp hooks deeper within your grey matter each time it waltzes by. A sure crowd favorite for years to come, Cry‘s first single is one of the band’s best efforts yet, akin to the spirit of some of their mesmerizing early tracks like “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” and “Affection”.
As with their last record, Cry suffers from a lack of variance in tempo. At this point in their career, it’s not as if anyone expects the band’s songs to break out into a blazing gallop, but something beyond the mood of a long, stoned shag would be welcome. Languorous “You’re the One Good Thing in My Life” could easily have been lifted from the latter part of their debut, while amusing, mid-album highlight “Hentai” likens manga porn to dreams about a lover. “Touch” feels like a sublime, slowcore riff on Australian soft rock group Air Supply’s classic “Lost in Love,” and lilting closer “Pure” shuffles along with yet another salacious story of sweat-dripping, clothing-optional, bedroom seduction.
According to the band’s press materials, their debut has now sold over 550,000 records (streaming equivalent), garnered over 360 million Spotify streams, and received 350 million YouTube streams. Listening to Gonzalez’s 2011 YouTube LP, Romans 13:9, there is little doubt that the El Paso-native once had a more sonically adventurous streak within him, but as the old phrase goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Misery and heartache added a much more interesting layer to these songs the first time around, but it all still works. Formulaic though they might now seem, the quartet’s reverb-drenched songs of lust and longing still beguile, and on Cry, that sultry voice continues to be a ravishingly beautiful thing to behold.