Cigarettes After Sex – Powerstation January 8, 2018

Cigarettes After Sex performed at Auckland’s Powerstation last night. The 13th Floor’s Kate Powell was there to review while Veronica McLaughlin supplies the photos… 

In the hazier corners of 1980s alternative rock resides the beginnings of Dream Pop. Historically associated with 4AD Records, the sound treads the line between ambient and pop. Breathy vocals are often set against a perpetually down-tempo drone. It’s less of a genre and more a collection of emotionally ambivalent sounds that a cynic would call blankness. But the intent of this distance is to set up some very pretty parameters to allow the listener to imbue the music with their own personal meaning.

From Beach House and Warpaint to the heady summer of 2010 where every aesthetically pleasing art school dropout seemed to start chillwave band, it seems to have been a decade dominated by Indie bands keen to show a working knowledge of Mazzy Star, The Cocteau Twins and Galaxie 500.  Bearing this in mind, it would be understandable to dismiss Texas band Cigarettes After Sex as late on the Dream Pop band wagon. But that would negate their sonic differences and impressively rapid rise to alternative fame that saw them pack out The Powerstation last night.

Opener Sweet made it immediately evident how CAS differentiate themselves from other Dream Pop artists. While singer Greg Gonzalez possesses an androgynous vocal style fairly typical of the sound, most bands are predisposed to bury their singers in echoes, reducing them to a wistful drift that floats in-between bars, whereas CAS make him the centre of attention. However, this wasn’t at the expense of their surprisingly muscular sound, which allowed for considerably clearer guitars than usually prescribed, allowing for a gaunt, dusky sound that was not dissimilar to their studio album. In a genre where atmosphere can trump melody, it was a refreshing take.

As their set list unfurled at a somnambulant pace, the black-clad band’s apathetic stage demeanour wore a bit thin. Phillip Tubb was motionless save for one hand on the synth at all times, while Gonzalez would emerge from the haze at the start of each song only to stop at the mike and stand stock still. This caused a low hum of restless chatter from the crowd throughout the first half of the set, which was distracting.

With one EP and a self-titled debut to their name, they couldn’t go too wrong with their song selections. Unfortunately, it highlighted the bands biggest weakness, which is their lyrics. With a name like Cigarettes After Sex there is a sense that they conjure up songs equating to sultry summer afternoons of sheets twisted around intertwined bodies where hazily languid seduction does not take away from obvious finesse.

Except they don’t.

I mean, they try and it’s not all bad. But Gonzalez has a tendency to write about sex like he’s just seen a woman naked for the first time a week ago and is still picking his jaw up off the floor. That’s if lines like Sunsetz are anything to go by: “See you open your dress and show me your tits on the swing set at the old playground.”

Alternatively, when he stops writing like a teenager recently relieved of his virginity, he attempts to play the Lothario with clangers such as Young and Dumb’s  “Well I know full well that you are the patron saint of sucking cock Señorita, you’re a cheater well, so am I.

It’s like he was shooting for Robert Plant levels of sexiness but landed on Lemmy and I’m struggling to think of a circumstance where someone would be wooed by such a moniker. While this is undoubtedly off putting, it speaks to the strength of their sound that it doesn’t *really* spoil the evening and the crowd were left eager for more.

A gentle, dreamy evening and ideal to ease yourself back into the working week.

Kate Powell

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Veronica McLaughlin: