Cigarettes After Sex – X’s

This could well be their most consistent record...

Cigarettes After Sex are far from the household name their streaming numbers might suggest. Despite earning billions of listens (24 million monthly Spotify listeners alone), the Texan band have maintained a cult persona of one removed from the mainstream. Producers of a type of sensual dream-pop fit for bedroom chilling and, well, soundtracking the activity described by their risqué band name itself. The biggest draw, of course, is the soothing vocals of frontman Greg Gonzalez, a singer harbouring a style ambiguous in gender and almost erotic in nature.

The blissful, mid-tempo template is one they’ve embraced again on third album, ‘X’s’ – sonically luscious, softly melodic, the guitars typically reverbed. An offering of rich and entrancing tracks, noir in scope and only subtle in difference. This time round, Gonzalez’ lyricism follows the highs and lows of a four-year relationship to its eventual demise.

The three-piece’s third album is undeniably alluring from the off. Title track opener ‘X’s’ emerges with dreamy riffs, whispery vocals and smooth basslines to instantly grab your attention. Next up, the tender ‘Tejano Blue’ was inspired by the singer’s experiences growing up in El Paso and gorgeously combines Tejano music (Selena’s ‘Como La Flor’ being a particular influence) with his love of Scottish dream pop pioneers Cocteau Twins.

As we pass into the record’s second half, ‘Dark Vacay’ recalls a drug-fuelled summer of romance with his ex-partner in Prague and contains more claustrophobic aspirations. Those moody vibes are carried into ‘Baby Blue Movie’, Gonzalez urging the listener to find fulfilment in their current love over an unrealistic ideal: “Don’t you understand? / Don’t you know the love that you want’s all the love that you needed?”.

Later, ‘Dreams From Bunker Hill’ is a final cry for a failing relationship and a touching moment of heartfelt desperation (“Do you want to make it forever? / Do you want to be my only one?”), while misplaced hope turns to break up helplessness on album finale ‘Ambien Slide’ – a moody riff and punchy bassline ending the record on a subtle yet refreshing level of intensity.

You could argue that ‘X’s’ is Cigarette After Sex’s most consistent album of the three released so far. While the Texan band deliver their famed reverbed sound, similar lustful lyrics and reveal little desire to move the dial, the overall standard – more so when comparing each record’s weaker moments – is far raised.

Of course, the doubters will point to the lack of variation over their discography and find itchy feet here. But with a musical formula this pleasurable on the ears, Cigarettes After Sex will seduce you all over again third time round.

8/10

Words: Matthew Mclister

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