Diet Cig’s first two releases established them as acerbic pop-punks with a knack for wittily deployed melodrama. With their first EP, 2015’s ‘Over Easy’, Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman skewered the cliques of their local rock scene in New Paltz, an artsy town upstate of New York City. 2017 debut album ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ saw the duo widen the scope of their ire, taking aim at everything from bad sex to the millennial pastime of accidentally killing houseplants.
And beneath that sharp, expressive wit lies a more concrete message. So often, people are told to calm down, to bottle up their rage, despair or sadness. In Diet Cig’s universe, it’s all valid: ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ put forward a worldview whereby vulnerability is a source of strength. If it suffered from any obvious shortcomings, it was a lack of depth. Often, you were left wishing that Diet Cig would dig further into the ideas they were putting forward.
Well, second album ‘Do You Wonder About Me?’ sees Diet Cig make visible, presumably deliberate strides in this direction. There are fewer snappy one-liners and instead each song explores a feeling – and its specificities – armed with a magnifying glass. ‘Night Terrors’ details restless nights of tossing and turning over anxieties: “promise not to kill you in my sleep,” jokes Luciano, conjuring up vivid imagery.
Musically, too, this is a more expansive record. ‘Broken Body’ dips its toe into the shimmering shoegaze of bands such as Slowdive. ‘Flash Floods’ surges like a bull demolishing a china shop in roughly one-and-a-half minutes, sonically tapping into riot grrl and NYC punk rock. And closer ‘Night Terrors (Reprise)’ revisits that earlier track in an atmospheric, slow-burning light, Luciano’s observations shifting from urgent to contemplative. In scraping back the layers, Diet Cig unearth a new, more intimate voice: when Luciano sings “I want you to wake up next to me,” the loneliness feels palpable – and more aching – the second time around.
After releasing their debut, Bowman and Luciano relocated to Richmond, Virginia to hunker down on the follow-up – and the change of scene is clearly evident here. Diet Cig have retained the fast-biting wit that made ‘Swear I’m Good At This’ such a compelling prospect, but here there’s far more depth.
Release date: May 1
Record label: Frenchkiss Records