IT SEEMS WE SHOULD NEVER JUDGE A GRAMMAR BOOK BY IT’S COVER Uncover a noir detective gem
Cigarettes After Sex are a difficult proposition to get your head around. Very little about them would hint at a global success story and their quiet, understated, ambient slowcore is virtually the last genre of music you would expect to go viral.
But that it did and here we are, on the eve of the Belfast leg of their extensive worldwide tour, talking about a band who have racked up scores of millions of internet listens for a curious brand of music that is hypnotic, entrancing and very beautiful.
The ambient pop collective was formed almost accidentally back in 2008 by songwriter and bandleader Greg Gonzalez, a softly-spoken New Yorker via El Paso, Texas.
While living in El Paso, Greg was experimenting with capturing the spacious sounds of recording songs in a four-story stairwell at the University of Texas. These dreamy songs would go on to make up the band’s first EP, EP I, released in 2012.
After relocating to Brooklyn, Gonzalez continued work on the band, enlisting the help of a loose cast of collaborators including Phillip Tubbs, Randy Miller, Jacob Tomsky, Emily Davis, and Greg Leeah.
Output from the collective appeared mostly in the form of singles, EPS, and immensely popular Youtube clips and it was when one of these clips, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby’, spread far and wide, did the next chapter of the band begin.
That song resulted in millions of plays (over 64 million as we stand) and served as a spring board to now, where Greg fronts a lauded band responsible foe one of the year’s most criticallyacclaimed albums.
Alongside a settled line up of keyboardist Phillip Tubbs, bassist Randy Miller and drummer Jacob Tomsky, the ability of Gonzalez and his band to set a scene and sustain a mood reels you in deeply. GROWING old disgracefully is more difficult than you’d think. OK, so you’re up to your eyes in nappies and daycare and complaining about pre-school session times and never really getting out anymore but you’re still pretty rock and roll, right?
Imagine your disappointment, then, when you do make it out to a gig and you find most of the people there are the same age as you, or much older, not the young, hip whippersnappers you’d hoped to move among once again.
OK, so London Grammar, though still pretty young themselves, was never going to be the
Almost all of Cigarettes After
Sex’s songs feature the same calm but intensely intimate vibe that shuffle along slowly in a melancholy almost meditative trance.
Speaking of their debut album, Greg explained recently in a class interview with Drowned in Sound, “This is like the novel or feature-length version of Cigarettes. I wanted it to feel like a complete work, where some of the imagery repeats – like it’s all in the same world. It’s very much a fulfilment of the feelings in the short works.” buzziest ticket in town but still...
So with heavy hearts Ultimate settled in for a night of middle class, middle of the road entertainment nestled among, well, peers. And then got blown away.
There’s a lot to be said for a great voice and singer Hannah Reid has just that. She’s obviously classically trained though softens the edges to suit the kind of future-folk that London Grammar do so well and only occasionally lets the warbling get in the way of the melody. It’s all a bit reminiscent of Massive Attack’s Teardrop and that is always a good thing. Bandmates Dot Major, a drummer and keyboard player, and guitarist Dan Rothman share programming and sequencing duties and it’s to their credit that they keep everything taut and restrained even as big songs such as Strong and Big Picture reach their crescendos. And only on Rooting For You, a largely a Capella number from the new album Truth Is A Beautiful Thing, did Reid’s vocal workouts seem to be disguising a pretty ordinary tune – but this was soon forgotten amid the wash of heavily processed beats and blinding (good) lights from an incredible back drop. ANYONE been watching the new German megaproduction Babylon Berlin? If not, why not? It’s a massivebudget noir detective story set in the Weimar Republic, in those tumultuous years between the wars when decadence was just about fending off the conflicting forces of fascism and socialism that were taking grip in the German capital. Musically it’s a sumptuous feast too, sleazy cabaret numbers and slick American jazz played out in a blur of schnapps and laudanum... all under the musical influence of Bryan Ferry and composers Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer. What’s not to like? Nichts!
HYPNOTIC The band perform on stage AMBIENT TONES Greg Gonzalez of Cigarettes After Sex
IMPRESSIVE Hannah Reid