Best Music Discovery EVER...this week: Cigarettes After Sex "Tejano Blue"

This week’s ALT 104.5 Best Music Discovery EVER...this week, is “Tejano Blue” by Cigarettes After Sex

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More on Cigarettes After Sex:

Ten years ago Greg Gonzalez was having a really rough Valentine’s Day. Freshly heartbroken with no hope of reconciliation, he spent two hours driving from his hometown El Paso to play a show, and he listened to Sade’s “By Your Side” on repeat both ways. “The experience that day stuck in my bones—it was an idea that I couldn’t forget,” says Gonzalez, the frontman of Cigarettes After Sex. “I thought, how do I make a record that feels like that?

With each record—the initial 2012 EP, 2017’s eponymous debut album, and 2019’s Cry—Gonzalez has been faithful to his muse: love. In raw, imagistic, sometimes smutty vignettes set to entrancing, slowburn pop songs, Gonzalez captures every emotion a romantic arc inspires. But where previous albums have drawn from an amalgam of relationships, for the most part, their third, eagerly anticipated LP, X’s, centralizes on just one relationship that spanned four years.

The record feels brutal, honestly,” admits Gonzalez. “I could sit and talk about this loss to someone, but that wouldn’t scratch the surface. I have to really write about it, sing about it, have the music, and then I can start to analyze and learn from it. Or just relive it—in a good way. I don’t have that Eternal Sunshine-thing of wanting to forget.”


For Gonzalez, preservation, catharsis, and deep self-reflection are absolutely essential to his process and his art. “It was such an intense experience and really beautiful while it lasted,” explains Gonzalez. “It's about romance, but it's also about who I was in that moment. How did I navigate these situations? What did I do? That's the painful thing: you're seeing yourself back then.

This period was one of immense personal growth for Gonzalez, but it was also during these years that Cigarettes After Sex would hit staggering new levels in their career. The build has certainly been cumulative, beginning slowly with the virality around their earliest music and accelerated by a ceaseless tour ethic that has carried them all over the world, from Chile to Egypt to Indonesia and everywhere in between.

But something else happened in the worldwide pandemic pause. Cry came out at the tail-end of 2019 and wasn’t really toured until two years later, and in that gulf of time the band found themselves thrust into becoming more than simply a preeminent indie act, but as one of the most globally accomplished acts across any genre, ready to take center stage as superstars.

The proof is in the numbers: As of Feb 2024, their 23 million monthly Spotify listeners sits them squarely in the platform’s top 240 most-streamed artists. Their music has been used 6.4 billion times (and counting) on TikTok, holding five spots in the top 1% of all viral audio creations. In 2023 they sold over 200k tickets globally (without being in an album cycle).

This ongoing rise is made all the more remarkable when you consider the band remain shadowy figures, there are no CAS music videos and their artwork is forever in moody monochrome. But in the era of the cult of personality, perhaps it’s this ongoing adherence to aesthetic, the rejection of overexposure in favor of a little mystique, that’s created the space for fans to truly commune with their music, sharing it like an illicit secret.

And so we have X’s, another lean collection which, like previous Cigarettes After Sex records, is also characterized by the place these songs were recorded. There’s the El Paso college stairwell for the first EP, the Brooklyn rehearsal space for the first album, the courtyard in a house in Mallorca, Spain for Cry, and now the home at the foot of the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, where Gonzalez lived with his then-partner. While initial demos were captured live in August 2020, with longstanding bandmates Jacob Tomsky (drums) and Randall Miller (bass), the lion-share was recorded in a small bedroom, over the course of six live sessions from 2021 to 2022. With the addition of Jeff Kite on keys, the intimate spirit was the antithesis of a big studio vibe: the mood was relaxed and open and afterwards they’d hang out, listen to music, and drink wine.

While continuing to observe classic pop song structures, Gonzalez has moved away from the prior sonic touchstones of the 50s and 60s, finding himself now drawn to a 70s/80s slow dance. But in typical Cigarettes style, these influences are subtle—in the drums regimented to a click, in the beat and bop of “Baby Blue Movie,” and in the overall energy akin to disco ball-refracted tears on the dance floor.

And then there’s Gonzalez’s constant throughline: his deft use of reverb and space, and his soothing, androgynous vocals, which he laid down in the Spring/Summer of 2023, when the singer was still deep in his grief. Instead of waiting for the healing balm of perspective, Gonzalez pressed on the bruise and harnessed the hurt.

What began as a long distance love, wound up in a move from New York to downtown Los Angeles just before the pandemic hit. Two nesting in the surprising sweetness of isolation, watching a livestream of the ocean while helicopters whirred outside in the apocalyptic air. From the emotional rubble at the relationship’s end, Gonzalez looks back at that time nostalgically in “Dreams From Bunker Hill.” He captures the relationship’s insatiable early days in “Hideaway,” and in the dancey sway of “Holding You, Holding Me.” And then there’s the tender “Tejano Blue.” While the lyrics depict the delicious possibility of forever, the title and rhythm is a hat-tip to Gonzalez’s Texas roots surrounded by Tejano music. Back then he was listening to Portishead, Cocteau Twins, Ennio Morricone, and Leonard Cohen, but this song offers his retrospective appreciation of a genre that was formative, if not easily traceable.

On opening title track “X’s” Gonzalez unspools a story of joyful exploration and endless days between the sheets—a lyric mirrored by the reference to Bert Stern’s now-iconic photoshoot with Marilyn Monroe, taken six weeks before she passed. Stern’s 2500 photos captured the actress vulnerable, playful, nude, and often in bed; the contact sheets augmented with savage X’s Monroe herself inked on the images she disliked. While the track and album title take inspiration from these instinctive scrawls, musically the tune’s plush-yet-spare blueprint recalls the now-classic “Sweet”—a song director David Lynch said made him feel hopeful for the future.

Elsewhere “Dark Vacay” conflates hedonistic European tour memories—running round Prague, giddy and punch drunk—with more recent experiences unraveling in close quarters on the road with Gonzalez’s then-girlfriend. “I wish I could’ve gotten out of this really claustrophobic mentality, and been grateful for everything that was happening…” reflects Gonzalez. “It's just the end of a romance and trying very hard to see the beauty of it.”

The poignant ten song collection comes to an apt close with “Ambien Slide” which sees Gonzalez tackle the pain of dissolution neither partner can soothe or absolve. With the Super 8, domestic bliss sweetness of Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski’s characters in Paris, Texas, or the frank clarity of a Richard Brautigan poem, X’s preserves moments in amber—the sensuality, the surrender, the abyss, and the ache when it’s all over. Gonzalez is here for it.

I have to confront everything I went through, that's just how I make peace,” confirms Gonzalez. “These are like photographs, and if I write a song then it'll always be dear to me, and yes, it’s painful that it’s gone, but I'm just so fucking lucky I had that ever.

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