"...Sonically, Cigarettes After Sex is an impressively even-keeled, slowcore collection—so even-keeled that it borders on ambient. It’s easy to write a bunch of slow songs with similar chords, but it’s an altogether different feat to produce, mix, and compile them in a way that their similarities become their strengths, gradually setting an unshakable mood. At first the repetition of certain elements—echoing guitars, soft hi-hats, elastic basslines—seems overbearing. But after multiple listens, Cigarettes After Sex’s less-is-more ethos is clear, and their heady melange of several genres of subdued indie rock begins to make more sense.
The album possesses strong aspects of alt-country in its reverberated, plucked guitars and shuffling snares, immediately bringing to mind groups like Cowboy Junkies and Mojave 3. But then you encounter a track like “Sunsetz,” whose dreamy intro owes a considerable debt to mid-era Cocteau Twins, before dropping almost all instrumentation in its verse to showcase Gonzalez’s boyish vocals. “Sunsetz” is so loose, and with so much space, that it should be boring; instead, it’s electric, the emptiness forcing you to focus on Gonzalez’s stark lyrics and clever composition. “So you open your dress and show me your tits/On the swing set at the old playground,” he sings, not really as a command, but almost as a general observation.
The theme of sexual encounters as fodder for quiet introspection continues throughout Cigarettes After Sex, but it’s delivered in such a nonchalant way that it avoids corniness. “Sweet” opens with the line “Watching the video that you sent me/The one where you’re showering with wet hair dripping,” before turning into a song about longing to touch a loved one’s skin through a screen. A catchy late-album highlight, “Truly”’s chorus goes, “Truly, know that you really don’t need/To be in love to make love to me.”
Much like relationships themselves, these songs are full of contradictions. The objects of Gonzalez’s desire are both achingly close and tantalizingly far, in his phone and in his bed, on his couch and in his head. Through wallowing in its own mire and coming out the other side, Cigarettes After Sex becomes one of those restrained, low-boil albums where tempo, repetition, and muted composition construct an entire story within the pauses between the notes and the ideas between the lines."
- Cameron Cook, Pitchfork
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