Crushes on bands are a thing, right? Certain songs, certain albums, certain riffs and vocal howls can set the heart aflutter with something that transcends taste and appreciation and escalates to full-on swooning adoration. I feel like that used to happen to me about every other week when I was a devoted staff member at the college radio station, eons ago. Every undiscovered album dropped over the spindle or CD fed into the player held the potential of triggering a rapturing affair of the psyche.
For whatever reason, album rarely leave me reeling in that way any longer, probably because openness to such experiences tends to fade as youth does. Of course, that only makes the moments when an album charges straight at me all the more thrilling and profound. And that brings me to Swear I’m Good at This, the debut album from Diet Cig.
Fronted by beaming firecracker Alex Luciano and given a clattering backbeat energy by drummer Noah Bowman, Diet Cig is poppy and fierce. Swear I’m Good at This is pink lemonade that’s been seriously spiked, not with a warm, endearing liquor like rum, but a rough grain alcohol that hits with a caustic harshness, like angry medicine. It makes it all the better to throw in the stupid face of a rat-jerk boy, leaving his eyes stinging and streaked lava red.
Luciano’s voice has a deceptive girlishness that recalls early Juliana Hatfield, luring the listener in with an approachable, almost comforting tone only to deliver lyrics of strident defiance. “I’m not being dramatic/ I’ve just fucking had it/ With the things that you say/ You think that I should be,” she sings on “Link in Bio,” and that’s really the crux of it all. She’s standing up to the world, branding her guitar like a broadsword. Her girlishness doesn’t mean there’s no cunning there. Sometimes eyes are bright because the brain behind them has got everything all figured out.
The album opens with “Sixteen,” which includes Luciano remembering a high school boyfriend who evidently also carried the moniker Alex, leaving her “moaning my own name while trying to fuck.” It’s attention-getting but not an empty provocation. Instead, it’s a flare of purpose, an immediate establishment that Diet Cig is going to play by rules they drew up themselves. Any topic is fair game and will be addressed honestly rather than demurely. It’s a thesis statement, and the rest of the album proves its validity over and over again.
Even in my throughly charmed enjoyment of the record, I must concede that there’s a certain sameness from track to track, which is a natural pitfall of music like this. Even if “Barf Day” swells to something a touch more thunderous and “Apricots” settles into a low-key timbre of tender, melancholy longing, there’s only so much sonic variety Luciano and Bowman can find in their musical aesthetic. Growth can come later, though. For now, hearing them bang out cheerfully angry truths is plenty satisfying, as on the spectacular album-closer “Tummy Ache.” Against a churning guitar part, Luciano sings, “My stomach hurts/ Cuz it’s hard to be a punk while wearing a skirt.” Brash and brilliant, Swear I’m Good at This implicitly argues that the hard things are most worth doing.