I had the pleasure of welcoming Cigarettes for Breakfast to our followers through a WFA write-up a little more than a year ago. There, I comment on the band’s solid grasp on the shoegaze sound and how ‘this is just the beginning‘ of what I think to be their eventual stride of great outputs. Join the Circus, their debut full-length, has arrived with no intentions of holding back and with enough confidence to put my admittedly giddy observations to test. And let me tell you – it’s a good feeling to be right for once!
With their previous efforts Aphantasia and the standalone singles “Wait” and “Home”, the Philly shoegaze act expanded upon their swirling approach to songwriting and added more depth and punch to their performance, making their riffs and hooks much more memorable as a result. This has smoothly transitioned to Join the Circus, bringing forth twelve noisy and shimmering tracks that tell the tale as old as time and as relevant as ever – one of desperate escapades and mocking appreciation for the absurd.
The record constantly blurs the line between the euphoric and the delirious, cashing in these conflicting moods through rumbling wall of sounds eager to channel how ridiculous life can sometimes be. The crunch of the guitar tone meshes with the bright yet mesmerizing keys to present a sonic freefall coupled with momentary instances of bliss that truly puts you in a disorienting state of mind – and it’s all pulled off remarkably. It is no surprise, then, to find something like the punkish fever daydreams of the opening track “Up” pair so nicely with songs like the melodically despondent “Defeated”, along with the rest of the tracklist enacting emotions that seem irrational at first but actually hold much self-awareness and are grounded in reality.
Cigarettes for Breakfast‘s success in delving into this auditory world also stems from their facility in creating balance. The electronic flourishes placed throughout the album, for instance, are done so in a tasteful manner and accompany the otherwise raw yet vibrant instrumentation to an eventful execution. The electronic drums during the verses of the title track gives a sense of restraint to the song that segues into an explosive chorus that slingshots at you without remorse, highlighting the outlandishness of its lyrics. In similar fashion, “Words of Encouragement” sports out a airy and tactful cut with deftly percussion samples that subtly pans between the left and right ears to create sort of a glitchy atmosphere that progressively evaporates the overall dreaminess of the track.
This knack for balance is also manifested through the band’s love and respect for the shoegaze genre. “Joyride” is six minutes of unrelenting reverberation that nods to the classics – a tried-and-true burst of shimmering yet drowsy instrumentation that never fails to sound grand regardless of the minimalist approach taken. A track like “Pretend” on the other hand, showcases an awareness and flair for the recent grungegaze scene/revival that have been steadily growing for the last few years. Great riffs, bombastic drumming, and enchanting dual vocals equally take stage to craft a fantastic song, made more in-depth by adding a lethargic pace that is not too unlike those performed by the greats of slowcore.
This review certainly doesn’t go without mentioning the carefully-thought flow of the record, musically and thematically. Join the Circus presents itself as the semblance of an internal conflict between facing reality and avoiding it by means of rapturous distractions; it’s all an ebb and flow of clashing emotions that never meet common ground. The urgency brought forth by tracks like “Up” and “Drifting” loses adrenaline by the time “Hollywood Dream” commandeers the tracklist – a seven-minute atmospheric rocker that showcases some of the best songwriting Cigarettes for Breakfast have offered so far, and with a chorus that’s destined to become a staple for the shoegaze genre. The sullenness emanated from the song is further carried through the rest of the album, most notably in the form of the aforementioned, reverb-drenched “Defeated” with what I find to be the song with the most hard-hitting lyrics:
Light leaks through the seams
I can’t see
Lungs full, mind numb
You can’t drown the sea
But it got me‘
What’s most surprising about Join the Circus is that it’s just the beginning for Cigarettes for Breakfast. The leap taken from their previous efforts to this record was a sizeable one and the payoff is more than worthy of discussion and admiration. The final product serves as a testament to a beloved genre that is healthy and flourishing once more, notwithstanding the fact that all twelve tracks are simply fantastic listens through and through. Without taking away the album’s overall concept and subject matter, Join the Circus is anything but a spectacle – it’s a thorough examination of the often contradictory human condition supported by an acquisitive sense of composition. There is no doubt, then, that Cigarettes for Breakfast is here to stay.