Gergedan Müzik

Cigarettes After Sex

“I’ve always avoided studios,” says Cigarettes After Sex frontman Greg Gonzalez. “There’s something special about recording out in the world, some kind of X-factor that comes from the character and atmosphere of wherever it is that you’re working that becomes essential to the feeling of the music.”

 

That marriage of sound and setting is the heart and soul of Cry, Cigarettes After Sex’s riveting sophomore album. Recorded in a stunning house on the Spanish island of Mallorca, the collection reflects the uneasy beauty, erotic longing, and stark minimalism of the space, all smooth lines and soft light. Gonzalez let the location—which at once called to mind the sleek modernism of an urban art museum and the epic timelessness of some grand historical ruin—guide his writing, penning nearly all of the instrumental work in spontaneous fits of inspiration captured every night between 9pm and 2am in the house’s high-walled, outdoor courtyard. While the music seemed to pour from Gonzalez all at once, it would be nearly two years before he would finally attempt to match those performances with lyrics, and the result is a collection of songs that toy with time as a linear notion, a dreamy meditation on sex and romance that merges the past and present into a slow, reverb-soaked swirl.

 

“The sound of this record is completely tied to the location for me,” says Gonzalez. “The house didn’t look like any space I’d ever seen before. It was futuristic and ancient at the same time, and the music came from this improvisational place that was very much a reaction to the striking beauty of it all.”

 

The week Gonzalez and his bandmates arrived in Mallorca happened to be the very week that their long-awaited, self-titled debut LP hit shelves in 2017. Hailed by Vice as “an overnight internet sensation eight years in the making,” Gonzalez released the album on the heels of an EP and a series of singles that had managed to rack up millions of plays on YouTube and launch him from recording in the stairwell of his hometown university to headlining shows around the world. The full-length collection earned international raves out of the gate, with The Independent praising it as “intimate and spectral” and Pitchfork describing it as “restrained, low-boil…where tempo, repetition, and muted composition construct an entire story within the pauses between the notes and the ideas between the lines.” Nearly every review honed in on the romantic darkness of the music and the haunting androgyny of Gonzalez’s vocals, and the album was a fixture on roundups and year-end lists: Rolling Stone named Cigarettes After Sex an Artist You Need To Know, NPR listeners voted them one of the year’s top new discoveries, and The Guardian dubbed the band’s “noir dreampop” as “among 2017’s best.” In addition to being a critical smash, the record was also a streaming juggernaut, approaching one billion plays across all platforms and landing the band dates on five continents along with festival slots from Primavera and Best Kept Secret to Lollapalooza and Reading & Leeds.

 

As life changing as that record release was for Gonzalez, it was the last thing on his mind when he arrived in Mallorca to begin recording.

 

“I had such a different mindset at that point,” he reflects. “We recorded that first album in the winter of 2015, so when it finally came out in the summer of 2017, it felt like we’d been playing those songs forever. By the time we got to Mallorca, I had very different ideas about the sound I wanted.”

 

Where the band’s debut had drawn heavily on the romantic pop music of the late 50’s and early 60’s, this time around, Gonzalez wanted to push into more unexpected territory.  He reached back to his childhood in El Paso, Texas, looking to songs by 90’s Tejano stars like Selena and mainstream pop country artists like Shania Twain as subtle melodic touchstones.

 

“It might sound strange to hear me cite them as influences,” Gonzalez admits, “but I wanted to introduce elements that were a little more foreign to people’s expectations.”

 

Energized by the fresh palette and setting, Gonzalez would sometimes write songs just minutes before recording them with the band in Mallorca. He engineered and produced the sessions himself, with an emphasis on capturing live performances, and he credits that relaxed atmosphere with coaxing the most honest performances out of everyone involved. Fully immersed in the moment, with no distractions or preconceptions, Gonzalez and his bandmates—drummer Jacob Tomsky, bassist Randy Miller, and keyboardist Phillip Tubbs—were free to explore the material together in dialogue with the house and with each other.

 

“Everything happened very naturally and very quickly in Mallorca,” Gonzalez says, “but then those instrumentals sat on a shelf for two years while we toured non-stop.”

 

It was nearly impossible for Gonzalez to find the kind of quiet, reflective time necessary to write lyrics while touring so heavily, but the inspiration he gathered and the experiences he collected during those two years proved to be essential to Cry. When he finally returned home to New York City in late 2018, the images and stories came tumbling out, and he composed words for the entire album over the next few months in yet another concentrated burst of creativity.

 

“There’s a strange timeline in regard to these songs,” Gonzalez explains. “I was settling down at home for the first time in forever when I was writing the lyrics, and I was newly in love again, so I had these melodies from the past mixing with my feelings in the present.”

 

Clocking in at nine songs, Cry is a compact collection, but its brevity belies its depth. Gonzalez writes with a filmmaker’s eye, capturing tiny moments with a rich, cinematic detail that locates the profound within the mundane.

 

“I was obsessed with films growing up,” he says, “and I sometimes idolize directors even more than musicians. I think that’s why I try to write in such a visual way. I’m trying to create these little scenes without any judgment or comment, to capture them and frame them and let people interpret them however they want.”

There are no grand revelations or resolutions in Gonzalez’s songs, only snapshots frozen in time and overflowing with emotion. He tackles sex with the graphic frankness of Henry Miller or Leonard Cohen, rendering unabashed, sometimes explicitly erotic scenes with a casual candor. The goal is not to be titillating, but rather to be honest in his exploration of what it means to be human, and to that end, Gonzalez writes largely without gendered pronouns, leaving the narratives open and relatable.

 

“These songs are all anchored in love,” Gonzalez says, “and I didn’t want to shy away from any aspect of that, be it emotional or physical. My relationship with my audience has always been about creating a safe space to explore romance and sex and sexuality, and this album feels like it’s part of that ongoing conversation.”

 

The delicate “Hentai,” for instance, finds a sweet love story in a decidedly unexpected place, while the heartrending “Touch” paints a portrait of two lovers perpetually on different pages, and the hypnotic “Don’t Let Me Go” (which was actually recorded separately in a church in Germany) finds its narrator longing for the chance to tell an old flame that he wishes her well. Some tracks forego narrative altogether, with the swirling “Heavenly” surrendering to the senses and the tender “Falling In Love” tapping into the all-consuming power of memory. While Gonzalez writes quite literally on the album, he often draws on fantasy, too, stepping outside of himself to explore alternate perspectives and parallel timelines, though even those lyrics are still frequently inspired by his real-life relationships. The slow-burning “You’re the Only Good Thing In My Life” imagines a love affair that never happened at the house in Mallorca, and the sensual “Kiss It Off Me” blurs the line between dream and reality.

 

“Ultimately, I view this record as a film,” Gonzalez concludes. “It was shot in this stunning, exotic location, and it stitches all these different characters and scenes together, but in the end it’s really a simple story about romance, beauty, and sexuality. It’s a very personal telling of what those things mean to me.”

 

 

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