Review: Diet Cig, 'Swear I'm Good At This'
Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still at the bottom of the page.
Alex Luciano is a guitar-slinging human tornado on a Pixy Stix bender. As the singer, guitarist and one half of the undeniably charming duo Diet Cig, Luciano is known to bop, flail and high-kick around the stage. And that boundless exuberance is infectious, coaxing crowds into pop-punk sock hops. It's also emblematic of the joyful musical bond between Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman, who can frequently be spotted sharing a glance and a wide grin in the split seconds before Luciano leaps off the front of his bass drum. What began as a chance meeting at a house show in the Hudson Valley-based college town of New Paltz, N.Y., has sparked a vital collaboration and friendship.
Diet Cig brilliantly bottles Luciano's energy on the duo's debut album, Swear I'm Good At This. Every track here is a frenetic showcase for Luciano's thrashing guitars and cooing harmonies and Bowman's pounding drums. The record benefits from a tour-honed chemistry that yields sharper hooks and fuller production than any of Diet Cig's previous singles: Listen for the little synth phrase floating up from the distorted fray of "Maid Of The Mist", or the softly strummed guitar that opens "Bath Bomb." And with every taut banger comes the kind of candy-coated melodies that dare you to resist shouting along in unison.
For all the fizzy fun Diet Cig uncorks, those irresistible dynamics cloak the intimacy at the album's core. Writing with revealing honesty and searing wit, Luciano shows an innate knack for lyrics that reflect equal parts wide-eyed wonder, earnest vulnerability, and a fearless, "doing it on my own terms" ferocity. Frequently harvesting from her own past formative romances and breakups, it's Luciano's tiniest details that prove the most relatable. Luciano is capable of capturing the flittering giddiness of a new crush on "Leo" and "Apricots" ("I wanna kiss you in the middle of a party / I wanna to cause a scene"); depicting relationship-status conversations on "I Don't Know Her" ("I don't want you to feel nostalgic for something that never happened"); and even derives cringe-worthy humor from an awkward fling with someone who shares her name on "Sixteen." Similarly, "Barf Day" revisits the sadness of being ignored on her birthday ("I'm sick of being my own best friend / Will you be there in the end?"), only to stave off loneliness with a satisfying kiss-off: "I just wanna have ice cream on my birthday! / I know that you're sorry, I just don't care!"
Yet Diet Cig is at its most potent when deploying Luciano's experiences to wrestle with bigger ideas, like consent, identity and flipping gender roles. "I don't need a man to hold my hand / That's just something you'll never understand!" Luciano proudly proclaims on the invigorating closer "Tummy Ache." Elsewhere, "Maid Of The Mist" addresses past exes ("I am bigger than the outside shell of my body and if you touch it without asking then you'll be sorry") while turning her assurances into an empowering mantra: "I'm fine / You're alive / You'll be O.K. in some time." And on "Link In Bio," Luciano voices her frustrations over how women are all too often singularly defined or silenced for being too outspoken: "They say speak your mind / But not too loud / I'm not being dramatic / I've just f------ had it with the things that you say you think that I should be / I'm done with being a chill girl / I'm trying to take over the world."
Swear I'm Good At Thisall adds up to a snapshot of a young songwriter navigating through the yearning and boredom, ambition and insecurity that accumulates along the rocky path from adolescence to adulthood. The power of Diet Cig comes from the way Luciano and Bowman bolster these themes with affirming positivity in the form of delightful, explosive anthems. These songs will surely give anyone weathering their own tough moments the confidence to pick themselves up and dance.
Swear I'm Good At This is out April 7 on Frenchkiss Records.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.