In 2014, musician Noah Bowman played a house show in New York with his old band, Earl Boykins. In a random turn of events, Alex Luciano, who was in the crowd at the time, interrupted the band’s set; she wanted a cigarette lighter. Bowman gave her a bottle of wine instead. Phone numbers were exchanged, and the very next day Bowman gave Luciano a tattoo on her foot. Even though Luciano had never been in a band before (and had barely even touched a guitar), the two were making music by August 2014, and by September 2014, their pop-punk duo of Diet Cig was securely established.
Talk about a whiplash.
Their EP, Over-Easy, is exactly what you would imagine an album from a band so bizarrely thrown together would sound like: a hodge-podge of basement rock sounds. Songs that were DIY tutorials in the sense that they crookedly cut music down the simplest of elements: vocals, an electric guitar and a steady drum beat. Pasting those elements together like an arts-and-crafts collage, Diet Cig created an EP that was a little frayed around the edges, a little mundane but easily accessible in its simplicity.
Their newest release, Swear I’m Good At This, is a duplicate of Over-Easy. Between these two albums, Diet Cig remains adamantly consistent in every sense except for number of songs; Swear I’m Good At This is a longer retelling of a concept that Over-Easy quickly introduced.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
After all, if there’s anything that Diet Cig established with Over-Easy, it’s how uncomplicated their music is. Albums are skeletons: collections of tracks stripped down to bare bones. This band’s strength does not lie in complexity.
Rather, Diet Cig’s most compelling feature lies within how it is able to turn the mundane into a sort of art.
Luciano and Bowman are a duo that focus on small-scale details. Their music revolves around hidden idiosyncrasies and seemingly insignificant anecdotes; the unnoticeable bruises that a person collects day after day are zoomed in on — magnified until the uneven edges and blooming colors transform into a mosaic, larger than life.
The first track, “Sixteen” opens with “I dated a boy with my own name / It was weird / In the back of his truck / Moaning my own name / While trying to fuck.” It’s a moment almost too difficult to listen to because of how ungainly it is. However, the utterly unabashed approach Diet Cig has toward the song, the complete lack of shyness in recounting something so personal, allows the song to become something more than simply a surreal teenage romance; put in the context of Luciano’s whole-hearted, bouncing vocals and the slightly off-kilter jangle of her electric guitar chords, the scenario of awkward young love almost transforms into something whimsical. The small story can almost be seen as a fairytale.
In general, Diet Cig’s sound remains relatively consistent throughout Swear I’m Good At This. Songs mostly consist of Luciano’s enthusiastic vocals, charmingly imperfect over the intermittent input of an electric guitar; the steady line of the drum beat in the background gives some semblance of structure to seemingly impromptu music. This album will not be known for its diversification.
Still, there are several songs that deviate from the norm and work to ensure that the album doesn’t become too repetitive. “Apricots” and “Bath Bomb” both have significantly slower tempos from the surrounding tracks. Guitar contribution becomes nothing more than a whisper, allowing vocals to take center stage. While “Bath Bomb” still holds a hard edge, “Apricots” is almost a lullaby. Its softness perfectly conveys the concept of homesickness, held within the image that Luciano paints of four, slightly rotten apricots.
Diet Cig is a band that can be easily brushed aside as clichéd adolescent romantics. Its off-hand, casual quality could be considered a little forced at times, with songs that strive to create meaning out of insignificance, but instead turn into empty gestures. “Barf Day,” a song about the radical notion of spending birthdays alone, illustrates how easily honesty can transformation into self-absorption. “I’m sick of being my own best friend” holds an off-putting self-deprecation that distances.
In general, Diet Cig is strongest when it is the most basic: a handful of discolored apricots, pruny fingers after a long bath; songs that revolve around the most trivial of aspects are the most compelling. It is from these images that Swear I’m Good At This can be seen a collection; pocket-sized fragments of life that Luciano and Bowman have pieced together to form an album that is, while not life-changing on a grand scale, quietly impactful.