Diet Cig make music to nod along to. Their rhythms and riffs aren’t that engrossing, but their lyrics might as well be branded #relatable. They fit in nicely with similar contemporaries, only they don’t have the distinction that makes them more than just something agreeable to throw on when you’re in a certain mood.
Without the attitude of a Cherry Glazerr or the vulnerability of a Mannequin Pussy, Diet Cig albums can feel strangely lacking, like they fall just short of making an impression. Do You Wonder About Me?, their second album, is like the imagined product of the band’s name: something too diluted to be as addictive as intended.
After gaining some indie fame with their debut, 2017’s Swear I’m Good At This, singer/guitarist Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman headed to Richmond, Virginia to get some new songs together. It mostly feels like a continuation of its 28-minute predecessor, only this one is two songs and four minutes shorter. There are bass, keys, and saxophone contributions, but nothing to overshadow the raw immediacy of Luciano and Bowman.
Luciano is especially at the forefront. She gives DaBaby a run for his money when it comes to dropping vocals as soon as the song starts. This isn’t the worst strategy, especially since her vocals aren’t so unique that they need buildup. When she opens the sleep-problems-confessional “Night Terrors” with “I’ve been stayin’ up all night just as long as I can remember,” it carries the weight of getting something off your chest in real-time. “Flash Flood” starts with some freewheeling pop-punk jamming before Luciano’s vocals kick in, and it’s weirdly refreshing despite how worn it sounds.
Some lines are memorable, but clumsy, both on page and on record, for example: “My moon is in Cancer / I wish I was a better slow dancer / so I could tell you all my secrets underneath the disco ball” (“Who Are You?”). When she says “I’ll play the same songs over and over” on opener “Thriving”, one can only assume she’s talking about listening to others’ music, but it inadvertently doubles as a commentary on how boxed-in her songwriting can seem.
Sticking to a playbook can be a great approach, but Diet Cig seem to be always aiming for “proficient”, while the “exemplary” boxes languish unchecked. Their weaknesses start to show when they try things like the serene vocals over stormy chords in the chorus on “Broken Body”, or when they close things out with a spaced-out reprise of “Night Terrors”. They would have been better off trying to turn one-minute tracks “Priority Mail” or “Makeout Interlude” into full songs.
The one track that hits a proper emotional nerve is one of the most restrained; “Worth the Wait” leaves out the percussion entirely and lets Luciano’s vocals and guitar strums jitter like nervous tics as she talks of social anxiety. As the two-minute track progresses, with a melancholy synth solo mixed with crumbs of voicemail and other background noise, it becomes more meaningful, Luciano’s voice and words drawing you in. It’s a glimmer of hope that Diet Cig could actually be something more on their next time out.