Depending on your predilection for mood (and smoking), their name can either be instantly alluring or repulsive.
And yet, despite their lack of public profile and minimal artwork, Cigarettes After Sex have racked up some serious numbers on YouTube — songs off their 2012 EP I., 'Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby' and 'Dreaming Of You', have amassed 52 million and 13 million views respectively.
It's not hard to see why — the picturesque nocturnal imagery they employ is accompanied brilliantly by downtempo rock guitar riffs and stark instrumentation, inviting comparisons to dreamy alternative rock bands like Mazzy Star, Low, Slowdive and The Smashing Pumpkins.
"We released the EP in 2012, and no one was talking about it," frontman Greg Gonzalez says. "I just wanted to make something. And then I pretty much moved to New York and started playing shows there as a new band in town."
He points to the release of his second EP in 2015, with the track 'Affection', that helped break them through the internet. "Somehow we became a mainstay of the recommendation section on the site when you’re watching a video — it was random, but everything turned out good for us."
The music of Cigarettes After Sex — like the best of their hushed contemporaries — frame nostalgia with vivid undertones: the band deals with heartbreak head on, but their music also serves as an escape into the kind of poetic romanticism that easily resonates with people. For many, their name is the perfect embodiment of their music.
"When I first came up with the name, I already had a couple of songs I wrote that were a lot more personal, more sexual," he explains over the phone. "It was based on real stuff I was going through, so it seemed most fitting."
Cigarettes After Sex are currently prepping the release of their self-titled album debut, five years after the release of I.. The album's first single, 'Apocalypse', is noticeably more expansive and spacious than anything they've done so far — while not a far cry from the minimal sensuality of 'Affection', the instrumentation is vast and detailed, and Gonzalez's vocals cut through with immense clarity.
"We are a band that has stuck really true to our style and sound," Gonzalez says. "I'm not quite worried about pigeonholing ourselves."
The self-titled album, due for release June 9th, serves as an extension of the sound Gonzalez has carefully built since their first EP. "What you can expect, as far as the record itself, is really just different kinds of sounds within what we’re already doing."
While it's easy to point out the band's convincing similarities to successful modern acts like Beach House or even Rhye, Gonzalez is a music nerd through and through, and he applies that to his creative process — his recent Valentine's Day playlist runs the gamut from 50s orchestral pop to jazz and folk, along with a shoutout to Francoise Hardy, of whom he counts himself a massive fan. Another form of music that powers the smoky darkness of Cigarettes After Sex? Heavy metal.
"I really enjoy the darker undercurrent of my favourite metal albums," he explains. "I was into it when I was 11 or 12, but it's music I find myself going back to, especially Metallica's Master Of Puppets."
As the release of his debut album nears, and the future looking ever so bright for his now-hotly demanded project, Gonzalez remains firm about the band's direction.
"It’s all about relationships for the most part," he says, "and I wanted to do a similar record [with my album debut] but more than romance. It was just like a goal. There was a time where it was hard to find a record that just stuck itself to a single subject, like heartbreak or something like that. For me, it was kind of hard to not write about anything other than love."
Greg Gonzalez names three albums that have inspired Cigarettes After Sex.
Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works II
That record has just such a strange sense of place — kind of like a dream. Whenever I listen to an Aphex Twin record, I want to feel like I'm somewhere.
Francoise Hardy - La Question
That record is just kind of a gold standard of music that I like. The music that I do is just my attempt to measure up to that.
V/A - 41 Original Hits From The Soundtrack Of American Graffiti
It's just this huge collection of great doo-wop songs.
Cigarettes After Sex will be performing in Kuala Lumpur at The Bee, as part of Urbanscapes 2017 on May 9th. The band is slated to perform along with Ulrich Schnauss and Stars And Rabbit.