Review Summary: Have you ever dreamed of a place / Faraway from it all / Where the air you breathe is soft and clean, and children play in fields of green.
Detriot beatsmith Apollo Brown has been a busy man since his 2007 debut Skilled Trade. Every year since, he's been releasing low-key beat albums to strictly underground audiences. Thus, until last year's The Reset, which escalated him to a considerable amount of acclaim throughout the blogosphere. Where The Reset managed to successfully counterbalance tarnished and grime-exposed beats with soothing, pastoral instrumentals, Apollo Brown's latest album is flourished in the latter; beautifully strung by blue-sky beats and sentimental instrumentation.
Right from the get-go Apollo wastes no time in painting us a picture of how he wants Clouds to sound. "Have you ever dreamed of a place / Faraway from it all / Where the air you breathe is soft and clean, and children play in fields of green", a soothing vocal croons on the opener "Sound of Guns". These are lyrics that perfectly depict the sounds heard throughout the album, and they range widely, but all encompass the core fundamental ideas of optimism, youth, and nostalgia. One of the best examples of this is on the aptly tiled "Father and Son", carrying life-lessening orchestration under stripped percussion and a spring-tuned piano line that folds gently in the distance. On the sultry "Black Pearls", a waving trumpet glides in the air as orchestral lines sharply paint the melody, creating a mildly hallucinating effect. One of Clouds' most impressive moments is on the ever-hypnotic "Balance", piloting UFO signaled electronics to a low, gelatin-like drum 'n bass.
At a colossal 27 tracks thick, one may worry Clouds would suffer from its own length, though the opposite is true. Most commonly tracks clock in at just over two minutes, resulting in a quickly paced listen; its smoothly layered instrumentals gliding in and out to flawless transition. And despite boasting so many tracks, not a single one feels out of place or particularly lacking. Clouds is undoubtedly one of the most fully-rounded releases of the year, shunning the cold grips of time as almost an hour of music floats by in an eased gorgeousness; making it the one of the instrumental hip-hop album's to beat in 2011.