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After a slow start, Cigarettes After Sex saw their fortunes swiftly reversed by a whirlwind of YouTube hits. Although they formed in 2008, CAS waited nearly a decade to release their debut record, and rather fittingly it unfolds at a lethargic pace. The music that Greg Gonzales and his fellow bandmates produce is slowcore in the extreme. The shimmering guitars, placid percussion, and wistfully delivered vocals also reveal their debt to dream pop and shoegaze. More than anything, early supporters of the band have praised Gonzales' unashamed sentimentality and dyed-in-the-wool romanticism. You don't have to venture beyond the opening track to experience his hazy passion. "K." recalls the early days of an affair with all the desperate adoration that engenders: "Holding you until you fall asleep/And it's just as good as I knew it would be/Stay with me/I don't want you to leave." The band often captures the nebulous nature of the beginning of a relationship through a dizzying, hypnotic mix of lightly administered instrumentation and Gonzales' deeply intimate vocal. Nevertheless, the record can miss the mark sometimes when the lyrics become dangerously prosaic, as on "Sweet": "It's so sweet knowing that you love me." Overall though, saccharine flashes are swallowed up by a morbid air that pervades the album. "Apocalypse" unfolds against an imagined catastrophic backdrop, while Gonzales sings of the disaster as if he's just awakened: "You leapt from crumbling bridges watching cityscapes turn to dust/Filming helicopters crashing in the ocean from way above." His restless pursuit of a lover in this sleepy gothic tale is claustrophobically intimate; his persistence feels like he's picking at a scab: "Kisses on the foreheads of the lovers wrapped in your arms/You've been hiding them in hollowed-out pianos left in the dark." Any connection to the joys of burgeoning romance is swiftly stripped of its dreamy naïveté by "Each Time You Fall in Love." It quite brutally dispels the myth of true love, describing it as "clearly not enough" and further arguing that "It isn't safe." In some respects, the twist from optimism to cynicism about matters of the heart is honest and bracing, but Gonzales' blame-and-shame tactic also wears thin: "And each time you kiss a girl you never know what it's worth/You say all of the words they wanna hear/It isn't real." Women are often painted as untrustworthy and duplicitous ("She took you for a ride in summer baby/Lost all your money to her"), making the record's loyalty to noir styles and conventions a little tiresome. Equally, the so-called romanticism of CAS' music can seem a little creepy at times. It's hard to know what to make of "Young & Dumb"'s refrain: "Well I know full well that you are the patron saint of sucking cock/Señorita you're a cheater, well so am I/You wanna go where the girls are young and dumb, and hot as fuck." Overall, chronically anti-romantic moments are eclipsed by sweet, somnambulant melodies that may not quicken the pulse but often hypnotize nevertheless. ~ Bekki Bemrose