Cigarettes After Sex sells moody heartbreak

The sappy, sad boy niche band brought their signature sound to The Jefferson


If you’re ever curious about what silk might sound like, or what happens when you draw out music to its simplest form, attend a Cigarettes After Sex concert. 

“Concert” may be a misnomer — rather, the Saturday night show at The Jefferson was advertised as “An Evening with Cigarettes After Sex,” giving the entire experience the sound of an intimate date instead of a performance. It was a sharing of personal reminiscence with minimalist stage decorations — a simple black background underneath four white stage lights, the same color scheme as their collection of singles and first full-length album, released in 2017. 

Every member of the band was dressed in complete black to match their scene and the mood that began with the first subtle guitar riff. The color defines the band’s brand and in case it wasn’t already clear from the setup, “K.,” a song on their setlist, addresses a love interest with the line, “Think I like you best when you're dressed in black from head to toe.”

This is the most distinguishable aspect of the music by Cigarettes After Sex — verging-on-desperate lyrics that make exceptional love, or sometimes just lust, songs. There wasn’t much dancing at all in the theater, merely a simple, collective swaying, but there didn’t need to be because of the dream-like atmosphere captured by Greg Gonzalez’s notable voice — it was enough to chill spines, no dancing required. 

There was no denying the intense presence of his talent — it sounded even more cosmic in person, echoing throughout the Jefferson, than it does on recordings. The band does what they do very well, and while slow, chill “ambient-pop” can be repetitive and slightly derivative of Joy Division’s slower songs, attendees were so transfixed that lighters sailed above heads during the enthused encore for one more song about heartbreak — or, as Gonzalez said, “getting wasted.”      

Cigarettes After Sex was started in El Paso, Texas in 2008. It is rumored that the idea behind their sound came about during an experimentation of recording spacey songs in a stairwell. Eventually the band released their first EP “I.” in 2012 with a cover that features a black and white photograph of a woman’s shoulders arching backward. The aesthetic that accompanies their name seems to be just as important as their music. 

“Cigarettes After Sex” paints a picture of a romanticized casualness so many young listeners of indie crave — a call back to a time before post-romance laziness didn’t end on cell phones but in sharing something together, even if it is an addictive, cancer-causing habit. Their promotion of this bittersweet nostalgia fits right alongside indie performers of today and tomorrow such as Alvvays and Frankie Cosmos. Ten years after their formation, the band seems to have maintained the hazy, stairwell moment that discovered this genre of love songs played against soft sounds that masterfully pair with Gonzalez’s androgynous voice, one which has seemingly escaped the effects of his band’s namesake. His commitment to his music was seen by the urgency with which Gonzalez gripped the microphone while singing about a lover in “Opera House.”

The show switched all night, from sensual to sad to both — to a myriad of emotions at once. After playing a minimalist and composed yet pleasantly sensual set of an hour, it ended with “Apocalypse.” 

“They’re like the Four Horsemen of the Sad Boy Apopalypse,” someone in the crowd said, addressing the intense ridiculousness that sometimes accompanies such splendidly exposed indie music. 

The crowd turned towards the streets for post-Cigarettes after Sex cigarettes lit by the lighters that had earlier waved inside the venue, most of them wearing black. The figure of the backlit lead singer barely moved his body the entire show, swaying only to maintain rhythm, but the street dwellers had to gather their composure after a concert that moved even the most casual of fans.

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