Cigarette claims to enjoy a “touch of mystique.” After two years without a release, the Washington D.C. band returns with Chapel Sounds, a follow up to their 2013 debut gush.
Marked this Friday for a tape release by JMC Aggregate, Chapel Sounds is really four songs nestled comfortably in the cracks of five short interludes. “Interludes” is such a specific word to use—it implies movement, transition, and reacclimation. Just seeing five songs titled “Interlude” on a nine song album creates the sense of embarking on a fabled journey; as if it would be wrong to not feel conflicted, scared, or uncertain somewhere between the beginning and end. Upon listening, usage of the word isn’t unfounded, Cigarette delivers.
Chapel Sounds takes the listener on that journey without being a super nuanced album. To the contrary, Cigarette brings to the fore simple arrangements and skeletal instrumentation. Whereas some albums try to deal with a very wide emotional spectrum, hoping to convey a lot of things tonally or lyrically, Cigarette has chosen to focus on and tease out a more specific set of feelings.
The album begins with a sparse interplay of reversed notes, panning from the left to right, with a dash of immobilization, priming you for the next song. As the vocals creep into the mix, you don’t even realize that you’ve transitioned from the first interlude into what could be referred to as the real opening track, “drips.” The song, which trades the reversed single notes of the first interlude for a wall that continues to swell vertically, works primarily within the constraints of twinkly guitar arpeggios assuming the form of a progression that’s serenely daunting. It’s like marveling at the fact that New York City takes up 469 square miles, but the furthest thing you can see from the window of your bedroom is the Chrysler building. It’s not that far really, but in the moment when your eyes meet the horizon, you think of the millions of people and buildings, and shit just seems unfathomable.
Just like everything between that window and the Chrysler building, the lyrics of Chapel Sounds are lost in the wash. Normally this would prevent an already airy album from staying grounded, but each song present such a specific mood that Cigarette’s songs can differentiate each other on sonic grounds alone.
The distorted second interlude leads into what might be the emotional highpoint on Chapel Sounds, “Golden Letters.” The song comes off as undeniably passionate and gentle with shades of washed out pink and gold flickering off of its aura. It’s not hard picture it within the context of a late eighties/early nineties Tony Scott film, just scary amounts of sunset and abandoned shipyards. During its climax you hear the band playing with more grit than you’ve heard on the entirety of the record so far, but it’s fleeting. Just a small taste of the tense and insatiable desire that bubbles underneath the whole record.
The second to last interlude leaves you where the first one did, paddling you down the river towards Chapel Song’s final full length song, “Window You.” The song makes use of a whispery Kazu Makino-esque vocal, doing for Chapel Sounds what Makinos vocal did on “For The Damaged” from Blonde Redhead’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. It takes your vulnerability, your fear, and embraces them only to cast them out until there is little doubt that you’re ready for what happens next. Not in sonic terms, but in terms of its finality. Whatever comes after this is going to tie up the larger statement that was just made, and hey, you might just be okay with it.
A light bulb flashes most brightly right before it goes out, that’s the mood here. On Chapel Sounds, Cigarette is on its back reaching for the window from a small hospice bed trying to touch the high tide, shivering and safe, with their eyes wide open before disappearing entirely into the dark.