In the liner notes to They Don’t Sleep Anymore, the third full length from Chris Pandolfo, aka Clouds Collide, he concludes with “Unintentionally, It’s far and away the most personal album but I am confident it will find a way to connect to people.” That confidence is well-founded, because like his previous albums, and like so many pieces of art that deal with the intensely personal, those details impart a universal connectedness trivial generalities never could hope to attain.
It also helps that They Don’t Sleep Anymore is fantastic; far and away the best (in a series of great things) thing Clouds Collide have released.
With each album there’s been a palpable increase in Pandolfo’s confidence, both as a musician and a composer. The new album takes a huge step away from the metal/blackgaze elements that made All Things Shining stand out back in 2015, and though he could have played it safe and simply stuck to a winning formula, each song on They Don’t Sleep Anymore takes emotional chances and pays off every time. Opener “Entanglement” immediately makes an impact, letting the drums carry the frenetic energy against some rich delay and reverb drenched post-rock guitars. The tension between the two moods played simultaneously is wonderfully matched against Pandolfo’s vocals, which move from a roar to sweet laced, atmospheric clean that for the first time stands exposed above the mix rather than buried in clashing riffs.
And it’s a bit of a revelation. Stripped of the cover of noise, this is the first time the lyrics really connect at the same time as the music, and the sense of being treated to the secret dreams and reminisces of the past hammer home how universal our shared sense of life is: the detail in a line like “If we go back to the beach / A ghost just trapped in memory / You’ll see tragedy will exist / on eternity” is painfully personal, but strikes just as deep in our own memories because of its specificity.
Each of the five tracks on They Don’t Sleep Anymore cast a ray of light on how we reckon with the pains of our past, and the music matches that sense of longing. “Cosmic Loneliness” aches with a gorgeous refrain as Pandolfo doubles his vocals, a vicious scream underlying the clean lines. The drums work to do more than simply carry the beat forward; with their syncopated accents they work to create a kind of percussive melody that feels untethered from the rest of the track, almost ready to fly away and leave the song bare. “Golden Youth” is unapologetically pretty, even as the vocals become more anguished over the contemplation of the death of a loved one. The end in particular is a wonder, extended guitar solos adding layers to an already hazy song.
Nine Circles had the fortune to premiere “Parallel Ruminations” and it remains a standout track, juxtaposing so many different moods and styles into a cohesive song that echoes some of the best work of bands like Alcest and Nothing. By the time of closer “Infinite Purgatory” there’s a sense of closure, of pained resignation if not acceptance. The pace is more somber, the guitars feel like they’re falling into the drums which in turn struggle to keep things aloft. The last line, “Find me a way to escape” feels like a desperate exhalation, a last angry gasp that this is NOT RIGHT before the waves crash in and the music fades to a dream of another time.
They Don’t Sleep Anymore is a lot to take in at once, and there were moments when I found myself lost in its maze of self reflection. But I think that’s part of Clouds Collide’s intent – the best pieces of art draw you in to a point where you can no longer see the shoreline, and the horizon is a line that has no bearing on where you are, what you are, or where you ultimately want to be. This is an album I’ve been happily lost in for months, and intend to stay adrift in for a while longer yet.