Unlike the emo-pop bands that are often named as their influences, Diet Cig don’t do grand expressions of all-out pain. They deal with smaller feelings: angling for an apology, wondering what an ex is thinking about, being scared at night and better in the morning. Their second album Do You Wonder About Me? is characteristically introspective and tinged with a light sense of humour. At times it’s inflected with the language of the internet: ‘My moon is in Cancer / I wish I was a better slow dancer’ is likely to be one of the most-quoted lines.
Their label, Frenchkiss Records, describes this album as their ‘ode to growing up’. Written at the end of a long period of solid touring (see: ‘I haven’t slept since last September’), it feels like Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman are reckoning with life catching up with them after a whirlwind era. Though this album feels generally faster and louder than their first, it’s interspersed with quiet moments that are geared more towards listening at home alone than at live shows. Two brief, mostly drumless interludes – ‘Priority Mail’ and ‘Makeout (Interlude)’ – slow down the driving action and make for small pockets of breathing room.
Luciano’s vocal melodies on this album recall mid-noughties pop-rock stars like Hilary Duff and Ashlee Simpson more than the masculine theatrics of much pop-punk – but the production leaves in texture and crackle that distance you from bleached-out millennium California. In ‘Broken Body’, the song that sits between the two interludes, Luciano’s voice floats on top of the steady wash of the guitar, never quite piercing through the noise. Under the lush instrumentation she sings ‘I can’t remember the last time it felt good inside my head’. In ‘Night Terrors’, too, she grapples with internal darkness and the difficulties of communicating it. The figure she sings about (‘There’s a man at the end of my bed and / He wants my soul’) could be a sleep paralysis demon or an abstract disguise for any kind of psychic pain.
Control is a recurring concern on the album – on the flip side of these feelings of lost control is the theme of choosing to leave bad people behind. In ‘Who Are You’ Luciano points out that a too-late apology is just an attempt at ‘self-preservation’: ‘I’m tired of empty promises / I can’t take any more of this’. It feels like the kind of speech you don’t make at the time but work out after the fact, on the bus home. ‘Thriving’, where the album title is drawn from, also dwells in the space between vulnerability and anger. It’s about wishing with a mixture of doubt and spite for someone who’s wronged you to know you’re doing well, while being conscious that they don’t really care: ‘I’m thriving thanks for asking’.
‘Staring into the Sun’, the penultimate track, is the high point of the album. Luciano’s vocals sound bright and clear, and the melody is both sunny and sad. When the guitars build to a fuzzy wash at the end it feels welcome, like a wave breaking over your head. The album closes on a reprise of ‘Night Terrors’, with halting synth chords and distant, robotised vocals that ask ‘Wouldn’t it be better if we spent more time apart?’ plunging us back into the uncertainty of the album title.
Do You Wonder About Me? feels like a series of short bursts; its ten songs come in at a compact twenty-five minutes. This means that the shifts in tone feel tightly managed, but also that the emotions don’t always get a chance to settle in. It’s an album that will feel different depending on how you receive it – whether at a party, running for a train, or sitting in your room gathering energy for the night ahead.
Diet Cig’s Do You Wonder About Me? is out on Friday April 29th, and is available to pre-order now.