The term “nominative determinism” refers to the idea that people gravitate towards jobs that fit their names. The classic example is incontinence researchers Splatt and Weedon. My high school chemistry teacher was called Mr Burns. Band names, however, are generally the other way around: the name is chosen to fit the band’s sound, not vice versa, and you can learn a lot about most bands from their name. Clouds Collide is wonderfully evocative. You probably don’t need me to tell you they play atmospheric post-metal. It’s the personal one-man project of Chris Pandolfo, and I mean personal. The primary inspiration for most of his work is coping with his mother’s death, and that’s continued here on They Don’t Sleep Anymore.
As the titular clouds flow and swirl past your mind’s eye, so does the guitar on this record. Imagine a washed out, spaced out Deafheaven and you’re not far off. Slightly distorted guitars envelop, clean guitars twinkle, harsh and clean vocals trade off or duet. Some quiet moments, starting with the opening of first track “Entanglement,” aesthetically remind me a little of darker moments from Steven Wilson‘s Hand. Cannot. Erase. They Don’t Sleep Anymore‘s five tracks are all around ten minutes in length, and each sticks pretty closely to a slightly insubstantial version of the post-metal blueprint. “Golden Youth” and “Parallel Ruminations” in the middle of the record are a little more immediate than the other three, but that’s very much relative. There’s a handful of standout moments. “Parallel Ruminations” is definitely the best song, with a few cool riffs, particularly the intro and its reprise a few minutes in, and a more driven drum track than the others. The intro and bridge on “Cosmic Loneliness” are very good.
Sadly, the flipside of this is that most of the rest of They Don’t Sleep Anymore blends into itself. Given a random snippet of music, it’s hard to identify which track it comes from. The guitar is vaguely pretty but rarely risks being striking. The same is true of the vocal melodies. This all dilutes the intended emotional effect, and the Clouds Collide without ever making much of an impact on anything. It’s definitely an album that’s aiming for atmospheric, and there it succeeds. As the best moments demonstrate, though, that needn’t preclude being memorable.
At their best, Pandolfo’s harsh vocals are raw and emotional, with decent stylistic range. Unfortunately, on some passages the range disappears and, like a lot of the album, they get a bit repetitive and lose impact. His clean singing is also inconsistent. Sometimes it’s fine, but at other times, particularly on “Entanglement,” it’s weak and reminds me in tone of American Football‘s Mike Kinsella, who I’ve never been a fan of. The instruments are all competently played but rarely notable, blending into the general haze. The production is a major contributor to the album’s sound, rendering everything wispy. This is definitely a stylistic choice, but much like trying to find something in the fog, it doesn’t help with the sense of monotony. Drums in particular lack impact. On the plus side, the bass is audible and actually contributes.
There are interesting clouds1 and there are uninteresting clouds. Unfortunately, They Don’t Sleep Anymore is a bit more overcast compared to previous album All Things Shining‘s scattered cumulonimbus. It certainly produces a looming atmosphere, but there’s few individual features that stand out. It’s never fun criticizing something that’s so personal to the artist, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time waiting for the album to click, but it never really has. I’ve certainly never regretted putting the album on, but each time it slips through my fingers like mist.