Cigar Cigarette

Screenshot 2024-06-11 at 3.56.16 PM

Chris McLaughlin

Described as “covertly heavy” (Brooklyn Vegan), “strange and stirring” (Under the Radar), “pounding apocalyptic banger[s]” (Nylon), and “undeniably groovy” (American Songwriter), Cigar Cigarette, the experimental electronic solo project of Los Angeles-based artist and producer Chris McLaughlin, all started as “some bizarre, Dadaist lyric.” It was “this repetition of an object that lives in its own world” that informed McLaughlin’s dark, avant-garde dance music, and Cigar Cigarette’s forthcoming EP, Natural History, is the natural progression of his psychedelic melding of genres to create a sonically rich, synth-driven EBM sound that is both referential and profoundly futuristic.

Cigar Cigarette’s music is guided by an anxious, apocalyptic mystique as much as it is by McLaughlin’s wide-spanning ear, and his cosmic vision of distorted, pulsating, and, at times, orchestral synthesized soundscapes. McLaughlin has accrued more than a decade of impressive credits and accolades in his production and engineering career, working with major artists including Beyoncé (for which he was nominated for two Grammy Awards—Album of the Year and Record of the Year—for Renaissance and “Break My Soul,” respectively), Kanye West and the Sunday Service choir, Rihanna, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes, and Neon Indian. Now, on his Natural History EP, he expands his cosmic sonic terrain and rich, transformative sound while maintaining his gritty, art punk flourishes. The result is equal parts distorted guitar amplifications and ominous synthesizer dramatics; think Tame Impala’s vocal melodies overlaid on Jersey club-influenced beats.

On the lead single “Pantomime”—a postmodern club anthem featuring genre-bending artist Naeem, formerly known as Spank Rock—McLaughlin leads the listener through the hallways of a haunted spaceship onto a dancefloor of tungsten-heavy synths, capturing the nihilistic exuberance of ‘90s acid house. The glitchy, ominous track “Confidence” is an undulating war cry with an undeniably danceable undercurrent; on “Probes,” R&B purrs, bolstered by contributing vocals from the Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian, float atop layers of interplanetary Moog mud. “Natural History” is another shiny synthesis of Cigar Cigarette’s eclectic influences, marrying psych-rock synthwave with a rich, textured tapestry of throbbing sound, equal parts ‘80s big-production pop and ‘00s indietronica. At times, Cigar Cigarette is blissed out and soaring; at other moments, agitated and urgent, conveying both existential pains and ephemeral pleasures.

An ominous overtone is a throughline in Cigar Cigarette’s discography, conveying an otherwordly and darkly modern take on experimental electroclash, but never losing its sense of irreverence. “I think there’s a lot of anxiety in the music,” McLaughlin says. “These songs were written about an apocalyptic future I felt was coming, the rise of know-nothings, anti-science, and nationalism that was starting to bubble up. It’s terrifying, but this moment in time also offers a lot of gallows humor—it’s just getting worse and worse, and all you can do to stay sane sometimes is laugh!”

McLaughlin’s commitment to DIY production and ever-expanding library of sounds began with early experiments tinkering with old ‘80s digital delays, samplers, and obscure flea market equipment. “The acoustics were nuts,” McLaughlin remembers fondly of the recording sessions in his first standalone studio in an abandoned Masonic Temple in Boston. “I set up speakers and would play shit back through the room and [just] sample the sounds of the space’s reverb.” As McLaughlin’s production and engineering career took off in the 2010s, a move to Brooklyn and the founding of his next studio venture, Deep Space Recording in Greenpoint, led to Cigar Cigarette’s genesis in 2017. Today, even when working with some of the biggest artists in music, those resourceful, punk rock sensibilities continue to pervade on McLaughlin’s planet of synthesizers, beats, and rumbles.

Now, in the wake of a move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and with the release of “Pantomime” and Natural History, Cigar Cigarette is turning toward a heavier, yet more polished sound, one that showcases McLaughlin’s penchant for textural, beat-forward synthscapes alongside his memorable hooks and absurdist outlook. Natural History is proof that we’re in Cigar Cigarette’s world now—or at least on the dancefloor of his strange club.