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Cigarettes After Sex (Inertia)

(As part of the catching-up-with-good-stuff-you-might-have-missed-recently program. Especially now there’s a tour announcement – see at the end.)

It’s widely loved, from Nico to Beach House and This Mortal Coil, Cowboy Junkies to Lana Del Ray and Mojave 3, and has a sustained following in its “dream pop” incarnations, but the allure of the limpid voice over narcoticised beats genre has mostly left me indifferent.

It isn’t that I can’t see the value of such prettiness on top and pillow-cushioning underneath (those This Mortal Coil albums are bedrock music for me), but rather that sustained exposure to most of its practitioners finds their weak points becoming too evident.

Basically, it often feels as if the creation of tone is the emphasis rather than the songwriting (too often restricted) or the singing (too often monochromatic). And this from someone who has a life-long love affair with the (usually flat-singing) voices of the Ye-Ye scene of the 1960s.

This is by way of explaining why I shouldn’t really care one way or another about Cigarettes After Sex. Except I do. As to why, well that’s harder to explain.

These songs flow pass with the tempo of a lava lamp. The pauses between bass notes in a song such as Opera House are long enough for you to contemplate three or four life changes, the BPMs are almost in single figures, and there are moments when the sustain on a guitar note outlasts the career-spans of modern Australian prime ministers.

Greg Gonzalez – mostly sounding very much like Margo Timms of the Junkies, or a higher-voiced Del Ray, but in the closing Young & Dumb like a pre-smack Nico – sings with the pacing of a relaxation tape and the range of an instructional booklet.

And the subject matter of love and sex seems real enough but just out of range: of his grasping hands, of our sights, of a lasting commitment, of even the certainty that a commitment is wanted.

Yet these crystalise so warmly, so alluringly, through genuinely well written songs that this album’s 47 languorous minutes feel, incongruously, too short.

That Each Time You Fall In Love ends a little before the five minute marks seems unfair on every listen, so much am I in the thrall of its suspended-in-air guitars, his naïve-but-not-really singing and the pull-drag-pull of its rhythm.

Conversely, if someone told me Apocalypse actually ran for 47 minutes there are times when I would believe them, having lost myself “watching cityscapes turn to dust” in its delicately turning chords, its post-coital ambience, its endless horizon.

I have wondered how Cigarettes After Sex turned me like this when I sensibly would have said no. But I understand now that that’s how seduction works.

Cigarettes After Sex will play The Zoo, Brisbane, January 4; Corner Hotel, Melbourne, January 6. And presumably a Sydney show will be announced (Sydney Festival?).

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