Scala – 24th November
Cigarettes After Sex are leading a quiet uprising in the world of indie. The Brooklyn quartet first appeared in 2012 with their debut EP I, but it wasn’t until late last year that it suddenly amassed a huge following on YouTube (accruing over 32 million plays on one single track). Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise then, that they sold-out their first London show after only a handful of small releases, but it’s still a remarkable feat for a band barely known outside of their own fan base.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, if the band’s name didn’t already hint towards an air of film noir then their hazy, seductive sound certainly will – plodding bass lines, echo-y guitars and lightly adorned synths create a captivating, dark ambiance. And then there’s that voice. Lead singer/songwriter Greg Gonzales’s androgynous vocals, a softly delivered murmur, adds a richness like hot milk in coffee. Imagine Victoria Legrande and Marianne Faithful singing love letters to each other and you get the picture.
In many ways a performance by Cigarettes After Sex is antithesis of what a live show in 2016 is. There’s no fancy lighting – in fact, the lights don’t change once during the entire set. There’s no dry ice floating off the stage, no ‘arty’ visuals to bolster the visual elements of the show – it’s minimalist. Whether that’s intentional or not isn’t immediately clear as they run through a bleak and stirring cover of REO Speedwagon’s ‘Keep on Loving You’. The band are completely motionless. The lights are a little too bright. I can hear people mutter the words under their breath. It should be awkward but it’s not. It’s one of many moving moments in the show.
Given the limited back catalogue, there’s room for new numbers in the hour long set. One such song, ‘Flash’ demonstrates Gonzales’s commitment to romantic numbers – it’s lethally alluring, the musical equivalent of a love potion, destined to be bastardised as the soundtrack to a season finale of some god-awful teen drama. You could argue that CAS only have one speed – hypnotic, down-tempo jams – but that doesn’t seem to matter to anyone in the Scala. The dreamy ambience of new single ‘K’ lures couples to lean into each other while groups of friends stoically avoid eye contact. By the time big hitter ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’ comes around, Gonzales has the room stupefied by this emotional reverence.
Like The xx before them, Cigarettes After Sex have mastered the art of understatement in an age of overstatement. CAS’s quiet uprising is destined to became a lot louder in 2017.
Photos by April Arabella.