Review: Diet Cig – ‘Swear I’m Good At This’
Posted: by The Editor
Diet Cig are a guitar/drums two-piece that play short, catchy, lo-fi-ish pop-punk with nary a guitar solo or an ear-catching drum fill. It’s an arrangement that’s been replicated to excess, a style that’s practically expected to be donned as nothing more than an offering to the legends of the ‘90s. However, Diet Cig aren’t spreading a romanticized gospel of the past with their music; in fact, they probably couldn’t care less about who they’re pulling from when they’re clamoring through power chords and unrepentant angst on their first full-length Swear I’m Good At This.
Songwriter Alex Luciano writes songs for the moment that sound like they were written yesterday during a sugar rush of inspiration, and then banged out in the studio immediately after so as not to lose that initial spirit. This isn’t to say Diet Cig’s music sounds sloppy or premature—the band took well over a year to roll out this record after their 2015 debut EP inadvertently rocketed them into indie-head radar. Luciano’s lyrics just have a uniquely impulsive quality to them that read like gutsy subtweets rather than carefully crafted poetry. “Wanna hold a séance/For every heart I’ve broken/Put them all in a room/And say ‘get over it,’” she jests in “Maid of the Mist.”
The opening lines of the record are some of the boldest she’s ever penned and set a decidedly overt tone for what’s to come: “When I was sixteen/I dated a boy with my own name/It was weird in the back of his truck/Moaning my name while trying to fuck/And I didn’t think you had to go to town/And tell everybody’s mom that I’m/Sleeping around.” There aren’t many other songwriters who would begin their first album like that (or any album for that matter) and that’s part of what makes Diet Cig special. There isn’t much of a consistent narrative on this project, but the interplay between that first track, “Sixteen,” and the closer, “Tummy Ache,” which is about the struggles of being a woman in the punk scene, exhibit a formative transformation for Luciano. She generates anger and determination from her vulnerability and uses that to empower herself as a musician.
Although “Tummy Ache”—featuring the premiere line, “Cause it’s hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt”—is essentially the album’s m.o., nearly every track on here conveys some sort of feminist message that pairs nicely with the urgent, clattering instrumentation. “Link In Bio” is a great example of this, with strong-willed lines like, “I’m done being a chill girl/I’m trying to take over the world,” and “I know what/I want/so please fuck off,” that jab at the patriarchy over burgeoning guitars and drums. It’s simply put, simply delivered, but surprisingly effective.
However, a concern going into this record was whether or not Diet Cig’s formula, which worked terrifically on their seven-track discography prior to this album, would be able to hold up for a full-length’s worth of material. Fortunately, it does; partly because Luciano is only capable of writing catchy songs, but also because of the subtle harmonies, synths and dynamics on here that justify the gap between this and their last output, the Sleep Talk/Dinner Date 7”. The hooky little synths in “Maid of the Mist” and “Road Trip” are like that additional piece of bubblegum you pop into your mouth once the first one starts losing flavor; as sweet as these songs are with just guitars and drums, Diet Cig know when to reach for the sugar packets.
The most interesting use of additional instruments comes during the end of “Bath Bomb,” a song that hovers tensely for the first couple of minutes and then suddenly detonates into a crushing, bass-heavy riff that’s intertwined with what sounds like a brass bell arpeggio. Whereas some of the other keyboard strokes can be easily likened to Jeff Rosenstock or The Front Bottoms (the ending of “Blob Zombie” is almost identical to TFB’s “Handcuffs”), those “Bath Bomb” bells are one of the record’s most creative points musically.
Diet Cig do a lot of things right on here. Some artists who blow up right out of the gate feel like they have to prove themselves with their first full-length and get overly ambitious. It was a relief to see the band shamelessly staying within their comfort zone on Swear I’m Good At This taking their time to hone in on one particular style and truly mastering it. All of their best qualities shine through on the standout “Barf Day;” a track that includes bombastic performances all around (Luciano’s voice cracks perfectly capture her seething malaise), effervescent harmonies, and an extremely satisfying breakdown that’s placed brilliantly within the track list. The only real issue with this record is the mixing, which could’ve lent more of a hand to the often-buried vocals, as well as level out the inconsistent volumes of the bass guitar. Other than that, Diet Cig are yet another band proving that the long-proclaimed dryness of the rock ‘n roll well is nothing but a myth.
Pick up the album and other sweet merch in the Diet Cig store!
–Eli Enis | @eli_enis