Diet Cig’s Do You Wonder About Me? presents an interesting case, namely that of an indie-punk act sticking the landing past their customary wave of hype to actually deliver a sophomore album. It serves as a rather stark message about just how ephemeral a lot of these bands turn out to be, though if there was going to be one that ended up slipping through the bottleneck, Diet Cig would most likely be it. Swear I’m Good At This was a good debut for the duo, but the fact that its ripples and their name have prevailed is an indicator of just what they can deliver when compared to so many others who’ll just disappear into the ether before long. Of course, when indie-punk is still lingering in the same wave that they occupied all the way back in 2017, the hope for much progression on this second effort does begin to waver, particularly when this isn’t a genre that values innovation all that much. Add to that a runtime of only about twenty-five minutes for a ten song release, and that hope looks even shakier again; the possibility to tap deeper into their punk side could be there, but you get the impression that if Diet Cig actually intended to do that and actually make moves to begin something of a paradigm shift, they probably would’ve struck a bit sooner.
And when it does hit that Do You Wonder About Me? isn’t any sort of reinvention or even all that much of a meaningful progression, the listening experience as a whole feels more than a bit hollow. It’d be unjustified to call this lazy, but it’s clearly not the peak of Diet Cig’s efforts, condensing and truncating what’s effectively indie-punk’s standard M.O. and finding very application within it. Even in a genre that can be as utterly forgettable and congealed as indie-punk, Do You Wonder About Me?’s only mark comes from how unimpressive it is, and for a band like Diet Cig that at least had more promise than most of their contemporaries, that’s a noticeable knock back indeed.
On principle though, Diet Cig are going through the motions pretty effectively, with nothing that would be too objectionable within mumblecore-friendly indie-punk even below the surface. Alex Luciano has the quirkiness and bubbliness in her delivery that’s pretty customary, and as has proven the case in the past, it’s an effective vehicle when it comes to deepening the message and subverting more of the lighter tones. In this case, she falls into post-breakup limbo where, as established on Thriving, she’s looking to proclaim her achievements and assert how she’s just fine without her ex, only for the subtext to reveal that she secretly hopes they notice. There’s a similar role taken up in Who Are You? and Night Terrors, where past toxicity is acknowledged but Luciano’s underlying interest is still there, even as she admits how unhealthy it is for her on Broken Body and Staring Into The Sun. As an arc, it’s definitely a solid one, particularly when Night Terrors is recontextualised in its reprise at the album’s close, and despite orbiting around some pretty recognisable ground for indie-punk, it’s sold well enough to meet expectations even it doesn’t surpass them.
That really can’t be applied to the rest of the album though, as Do You Wonder About Me? takes the pop sparkle that’s so readily present in albums like that, and tears it apart to an almost unworkable degree. To eke the most praise from that as possible, tracks like Thriving and Broken Body at least feel fully-formed; they’re not breaking any sort of mould, but the slightly rougher production and grittier guitar and drum pickups do opt into an indie-punk formula that’s seen a lot of success, and it’d be hard to deny that the same isn’t true here. At their best, Diet Cig are able to feel perfectly in tune with indie-punk’s current direction, but not only are they better than that themselves, but it doesn’t even happen all that often here. For an album that falls as far south of the half-hour mark as this one does, there’s a frankly shocking amount of filler or undeveloped ideas that make it seem remarkably bitty or piecemeal. Even if a few new sonic textures are toyed with on the likes of Priority Mail and Makeout, it comes across more like proof-of-concept ideas than anything that can conceivably be deemed a key part of the album. It’s a good three or four tracks that fall into that same bracket as well, barely making themselves known or just simply dissolving on impact thanks to having no real point to them. As for the rest, it isn’t perfect (which, when it’s all this fragmented, shouldn’t really be at all excusable), but picking out a true, identifiable low point really only comes down to some cluttered mixing on Flash Flood that, among its endeavours to be a bit more ragged and punky, can leave Luciano being basically inaudible in spots. Otherwise, Diet Cig are sticking to what they know; it’s not all that noteworthy on the whole, but for an album in which decisive quality can be in relatively short supply, it’s better than nothing.
But at the end of the day, even at its best, Do You Wonder About Me? isn’t an album that’s going to be revisited. For indie-punk diehards, this exact sound has been done better a million times already, and in more fulfilling packages to boot. By comparison, Diet Cig are actively taking away from a successful formula here; it has its moments, but they’re overshadowed by forgettable, half-formed portions of songs that just make this whole thing feel a lot sloppier than it should. It’s disheartening to say considering that Diet Cig were always one of the bands who could considerably be seen at the forefront of this sound, but here, they’ve taken a hearty few steps back beyond even the bloated-but-okay mid-section. It’s far from the worst thing ever – there’s at least a kernel of an idea that can fortunately be leaned on – but no one’s going to get much mileage from this one, no matter how much effort is put in.
For fans of: Charly Bliss, Camp Cope, Swearin’
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Do You Wonder About Me?’ by Diet Cig is released on 1st May on Frenchkiss Records.