Come Now Sleep is a beautiful and gut-wrenching interlude in the band’s discography
When As Cities Burn released Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest in 2005, it was clear that they weren’t a typical Solid State post-hardcore band. Rather than relying on standard drop-tuned chugs and breakdowns, the band paired emotionally-wrought progressive hardcore with glimmers of post-rock. With an adventurous and technically impressive sound that was musically, lyrically and emotionally heavy, As Cities Burn, along with label-mates Underoath, leapt to the forefront of the Christian post-hardcore music scene.
The band’s sudden ascent was challenged when screamer TJ Bonnette left the band in 2006 to focus on family life, throwing the future of the promising band into doubt. Out of this period of doubt the band emerged anew when TJ’s brother Cody, whose earnest backing vocals were an under-appreciated highlight of Son, grabbed the lead microphone for the band’s second record, Come Now Sleep. Gone were the pounding rhythms of “Terrible! How Terrible for the Great City!” and the throat-threshing screams of “Wake Dead Man, Wake,” but the group retained the atmosphere and teary ethos of songs like “The Widow.”
Even as fans expressed disdain for this sonic shift, it was a logical progression for a band that lost their screamer and that was never simply just post-hardcore. Twisting, distorted guitar lines translated into more melodic labyrinthine ones, and TJ Bonnette’s post-hardcore screams morphed into his brother’s emotive melodies, which he would occasionally push into the red with a shouter’s anguish. Rather than succumbing to doubt when their frontman left, the band adapted its sound and came away with a nearly perfect 10-song collection that holds up a decade later.
Album opener “Contact” exemplifies the band’s embrace of a post-rock and progressive indie aesthetic. Spacious and whispery, it eschews conventional song structure, stretching five different sections seamlessly to the seven-minute mark by blending lush guitar lines with Cody Bonnette’s wistful vocals. With a simmering main groove that shifts time signatures between 6/8 and 5/8, it never reaches a full boil but lingers in the warm waves of its own atmospheric production. Bonnette’s lyrics attest to the anxiety of faith that permeates the record: “Remember we used to speak/ Now I’m starting to think/ Your voice was really my own/ Bouncing off the ceiling back to me.”
The band follows with a sonic realm somewhere between Manchester Orchestra and Colour Revolt that still carries some of the gritty residue from Son. “Empire” throws lines of distorted guitar into increasingly syncopated dissonance before settling into an unexpected dance beat. Bonnette roughs up his voice as it progresses, shouting “Show me I was poor” as the song veers chaotically into half-time. The smooth melodies and straight beat of the chorus quickly become coarse and jagged as he shrieks over tumultuous fills from drummer Aaron Lunsford.
“The Hoard” follows a similar pattern, beginning with walls of feedback and looping guitar lines that eventually straighten out into an energetic progressive indie rock track. Just as Bonnette had initially sung the words “Glory, glorious” melodically before threshing the words in his throat by the end of “Empire,” he does the same with the word “Grace” in the choruses of “The Hoard.” It’s as if by stretching and then making callous the sound of such religiously connotative words, he can twist them into something simultaneously beautiful and gnarled.
These religious dimensions emerge most clearly in the song “Clouds.” Reverberant guitars fade in and out under a smattering of sampled voices talking about who or what they think God is, gradually building toward a big half-time beat with Bonnette’s poignant vocals: “I think our God isn’t God if he fits inside our heads.” In a lot of ways, the song is the record’s thesis statement, positing a Christian message about faith as a messy and ongoing process of inquiry, rather than a fixed body of knowledge.
Elsewhere, the band continues playing a balancing act between the dissonant and the melodic. For example, “This Is It, This Is It” cycles through poppy verses, cacophonous choruses and snarling guitar interludes, before ending with shimmering swells of post-rock guitar. Similarly, “New Sun” and “Tides” allow intricate twin guitar leads to emerge from post rock backgrounds, before exploding into the rhythmic ruckus of their climaxes.
The closing dirge, “Timothy,” is easily the album’s most affecting song. A 13-minute eulogy for Timothy Jordan, the song encapsulates the album’s overall themes of doubt, faith, and love and characterizes the ways in which the band creates atmospheres that range from the chaotic and energetic to the pensive and subdued even within the same song. Bonnette’s voice trembles with anguish as he sings about his friend’s tragic passing. Eventually, he gives way to a resounding six-minute instrumental section comprised of a sprawling guitar solo over a fuzzed-out bassline. The album ends not with an explosive climax, but with a quiet musing: “Take me back/ To where I was/ Before I was born/ It’s like a sweet and dreamless sleep/ It sounds like heaven to me.”
As Cities Burn transformed again with their third and final album, Hell or High Water, a Jonezetta-like indie record with fuzzy synths and occasional sing-along choruses—making Come Now Sleep a beautiful and gut-wrenching interlude in the band’s discography. In 2015, the band reunited with original screamer TJ Bonnette for a 10-year anniversary tour for Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest, before hanging it up for good. If only they would do another reunion tour for Come Now Sleep; with its intermingling of emotion and grace, it still “sounds like heaven to me.”