Sunday, November 26, 2017

Cigarettes After Sex: comfort listening

Not every album has to blow minds, to change the world.

Sometimes a set of songs can be the sonic equivalent of a much loved T-shirt, perfect for a Sunday morning sofa session. They can be comfortable and familiar and have so many good memories associated with them that you forgive them the fact that they have nothing new to say.

If this sounds like I'm trying to convince myself that this is enough, then it says a lot about how I feel about Cigarettes After Sex's self-titled debut album (listen on Bandcamp here).

It's an undeniably good record, especially if you've ever felt some kind of love for the quieter end of The Velvet Underground or their many, many indie and alt-country descendents.

Musicaly, it's all beautifully spindly guitar ballads as far as the ear can hear, with a dub-like tendency for all but the bass and drums to drop out behind the vocal, giving the songs a quiet-quiet-quiet dynamic. 

And boy, those songs are good! CAS have been going since 2008, and it feels like songwriter-in-chief Greg Gonzalez has waited until he'd accumulated a really good crop before dropping this debut. 

Lyrically we're in bohemian romance territory, of course, with the occasional startling shift like the Fitzcarraldo references of Opera House or the doomsday mutterings of Apocalypse to leaven the sweetness. 

The songs are almost good enough to save Cigarettes After Sex from its main weakness - that of being in thrall to a particular well-trodden post-Velvets style. As it happens, that's a style I love: many of my favourites down the years (Madder Rose, Orange Juice, Low) have built on it.

But this is comfort listening. And much though there's nothing wrong with that, and although this album's on heavy rotation round my way, I keep coming back to the idea that imitation - the reduction of music to an exercise in style is the end of any meaningful artistic progression. 

It doesn't matter if it's a style I like - which in the case of Cigarettes After Sex I very much do - the point still stands, pretentious though it may be. An lovable vintage T-shirt of a record it might be, but we need more than this if we're going to make it through.

Leonardo da Vinci on originality

From an essay by Joseph Bronowski on Leonardo in The Penguin Book Of The Renaissance, quoting a passage in one of his notebooks.

'The painter will produce pictures of little merit if he takes the work of others as his standard; but if he will apply himself to learn from the objects of nature he will produce good results. This we see was the case with the painters who came after the time of the Romans, for they continually imitated each other, and from age to age their art steadily declined... it is safer to go direct to the works of nature than to those who have imitated from her originals with great determination and thereby to accquire a bad method, for he who has access to the fountain does not go to the water-pot.'

I'm not sure I'd subscribe to as thorough-going a naturalism, but I agree with him on the limits of mere imitation of other artists.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


A psychedelic, spore-like visual effect created by leaving soaked turtle beans to dry on top of a piece of kitchen towel in the fridge overnight.

Monday, November 20, 2017

2017 in books

My favourite first-time reads from 2017. Once and future classics in bold.

Louisa May Alcott -  Little Women
Naomi Alderman - The Power 
Fredrik Backman - A Man Called Ove
Robert Jackson Bennett - City Of Miracles
Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities
Brian Catling - The Vorrh
Jenny Colgan - The Summer Seaside Bakery
Michael Faber - Under The Skin
Eric Flint - 1632 
Andrew Michael Hurley - The Loney
Robin Lane Fox - Alexander The Great
Laura Jane Grace - Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout
Chris Hadfield - An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth
Stuart Heritage - Don't Be A Dick Pete
Dave Hutchinson - Europe In Winter
J M R Higgs - KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money
Lindsey Kelk - Always The Bridesmaid
Mhairi McFarlane - Here's Looking At You; It's Not Me, It's You; Who's That Girl
David Moats - Civil War: A Battle For Gay Marriage 
David Nichols - Us
Ada Palmer - Too Like The Lightning; Seven Surrenders
Laline Paull - The Bees
Charles Stross - Glasshouse
Edmund Wilson - To The Finland Station 
Rob Young - Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Tweeter's Delight