There was no alarm. There was no announcement. Ben Sharp didn’t really tell anyone that he was putting his solo project on pause. But in 2015 he released the placid ‘Woum’, perhaps the least compelling entry in Cloudkicker’s unique back catalogue, and then, silence. Years of silence. The Ohio native had been so prolific before then, writing and recording a new release every 12 months on average, that the longer his absence extended, the more it felt like he might never return.
What a relief then, when, from out of nowhere, a new Cloudkicker album arrived late last year. ‘Unending’ was great- impressive enough even to feel like something of a sister record to Sharp’s best effort, ‘Beacons’– but it didn’t really have to be. It was satisfying just to hear those distinctive sounds and that dynamic songwriting again. Sharp subsequently promised it wouldn’t be another four years before another Cloudkicker album came around, but there’s no way he knew just how quickly he’d be able to work on a follow-up.
‘Solitude’, the eighth Cloudkicker album, was written and recorded entirely during the global lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Sharp puts it, this was produced “around the time the world was paused”. And, apparently now having had quite enough of pauses, Sharp has kicked against every possible meaning of the word. Here there are no interruptions, few intermissions, little chance to catch your breath. This is the most intense thing he has ever done.
You can hear it right away too. ‘Ludendorffbrucke’ begins with a brief moment of eerie menace before a powerful piano-down-a-staircase riff fills every space in the air. Few Cloudkicker moments come heavier. ‘What They Do Is Not Art’ is massive and metallic, the soundtrack to some alien invasion, ‘Ashtabula’ seems to accelerate for its entire runtime, and ‘Sandö’ is fully alive death metal. Then there’s the bass guitar, oh man the bass, it sounds like a feral animal, like a fireball, more in-your-face than Sharp has ever put it.
There are moments of lush beauty and epic brilliance too, certainly enough to stop ‘Solitude’ from feeling relentless. ‘Code Language’, a highlight, shimmers as much as it shreds, and ‘Crawl Spaces’ is a mostly acoustic coda. But the overall tone here is deep, dark, and oppressive. Given world events during the construction of ‘Solitude’, perhaps it was impossible to keep such darkness out.
For the first time, Sharp hasn’t exactly done all of this on his own. If my notes are correct, Intronaut guitarist Sacha Dunable is only the second person ever to appear on a Cloudkicker record, adding extra layers of guitar and mellotron to a couple of tracks here. But really this remains a one-man mission. Whether exploring looping ambience or tectonic riffing, traditional post-rock or novel post-everything noise, Sharp’s sound is always evolving, always expanding. Hopefully it doesn’t take another international crisis for him to figure out what’s next. No more pauses.