Cloud Zero



Liam Murphy

January 8, 2023

Tracks in this feature

Tracks in this release

A dazzling adventure at high speeds as this release offers a sense of pace alongside comforting melodies

There is a difficulty, when producing an album that is conceptual at its core, in presenting it in a welcoming way. If the premise that you are working with isn’t overtly familial, the creation can come off as lofty by its own admission, or too wrapped up in its own world to be easily interacted with. Producing a piece of work that enters into a dialogue with a number of different themes and contextual strands while remaining open and approachable is a feat that deserves to be lauded. And so, it is only right to explore Ahero’s release Cloud Zero

Cloud Zero is about going fast, crashing and recovery.” This short but direct description of the album’s content can be interpreted pretty readily as relating to cars or the act of driving. When inspecting the artwork and the sound as a whole, old school racing games instantly come to mind. Pixellated palm trees and colourful buildings whizzing past as fast as antiquated frame rates will allow. However, further into Ahero’s description we find out that Cloud Zero “embodies that feeling of zoning in and living the moment.” This is a much more personal aspect, one that can’t really be felt when playing a video game or even watching cars on the television. A feeling of peace and tranquility at a high speed, as your surroundings doppler into a haze.

This premise results in the artist creating tracks that are both laidback and exciting. Gentle and dreamy synth melodies skate along at a swift pace. Prelude brings spiritual vocals floating atop blurry chords that sound like the world racing by at hundreds of miles an hour. As mentioned, there is also a friendliness and reassurance present throughout, characterised – fairly explicitly in this track – as a strong, direct voice informing us what we are listening to and inviting us to relax and enjoy. It’s like being strapped into a completely new technological advancement capable of catapulting you into a state of bliss. One can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed, but excited all the same. 

Air transport is the most efficient means of travel and it certainly feels as though flight – or at least the sensation of flying – has a place on Cloud Zero. Starlite’s beginning almost sounds like a vehicle taking to the skies. Rumbling dissonance driving forward and upward as thoughtful chords bring the listener from take-off into a calming ascent. Rhythmic vocal samples swirl alongside twinkling notes before we find ourselves thrown into an emotional wormhole of clattering percussion and impassioned vocals chanting, gifting a progressive and longing atmosphere. 

It is directly after this track, on the following tonight, tonight where a standout moment from this album reveals itself. The first of a handful of clear samples appears, this one being a snippet from the catchy Natasha Bedingfield track Unwritten. Methodical percussion pushes things forward in the airy style Ahero has pushed forward with. Touching bell melodies are buffeted gently upwards with each beat. As this percussion clears, like clouds dissipating from in front of the sun, the vocals push outward. The cathartic hook from the aforementioned hit spreads across the skyline, creating a beautiful blissful moment. From here the drums pick up in pace and velocity as the listener pushes through the clouds. This sampling – as well as the other three songs that appear within the album – couch it very much in nostalgia for years past. A sense of wistful longing for what has gone before providing a bittersweet foil to the theme of progression and speed.

Not only is the album retrospective in this way, it also hearkens back to the sort of music you might hear on an old-school game. Melodies are lucid and glide through without hindrance, sparkling in the middle distance in front of the listener. The chattering percussion on 1997 sends the track on a determined route forward, soothed in its journey by twinkling keys. Ahero keeps things solid. On almost every track, you will find soft melodies supported by a solid percussive underside.

Come to may be the best example of that moment of clarity in the midst of chaotic speed. The gentle lapping of waves followed by translucent pad chords drifting just out of the reach of the listener. It feels – exactly as the title suggests – like the slow opening of one’s eyes, the realisation of true inner peace and fulfilment as the world morphs into one fluid speed blur. It is a revelation which is then reinforced by a strong bass section and upbeat percussion. Ahero lets the listener drift into this new state of mind, finding peace as miles of land and sky pass by.

More examples of bliss at high velocity come thick and fast, the slow blooming attack time of the synth on Imaging emerging like a blurred gradient in the listener’s peripheral vision. Cruise Control blends a pacy hip hop beat with thoughtful, cloudy pads and gossamer piano notes, supported by the inclusion of 90s R&B superstar Ashanti, her voice blossoming from beneath the hazy instrumentation. Its like we sit comfortable in a pod racing above the earth at intangible speeds. The penultimate track LAPPED! conjures visions of friends or competitors besting each other on some sort of race track constructed high into the blue aether of the sky. Meaningful melodies are played with a fun-loving pace.

The interlude towards the end, Above Cloud Zero, definitely deserves a mention for its journeying into a realm of pure catharsis. A spiritually invigorating atmosphere including chimes and soft shrouded pad sounds soothes us as we poke our head above the clouds once again; away from the frantic racing and speed. The heavens above us remaining stalwart in their appearance, unchanged by our incredible pace. Truly, a realm beyond speed. 

Cloud Zero is a fast-paced ride without feelings of anxiety or danger. The twinkling instrumentation and reposeful melodies soothe the listener as they make themselves comfortable over the rewarding 18-track runtime. At no point does Ahero lose us in any high-brow conceptual jousting, we are held closely throughout, able to experience a heady feeling of freedom while knowing things won’t get too daunting. Experiencing Cloud Zero is an absolute pleasure, with Ahero combining slick sounds reminiscent of vibrant racing games of old with a soft embracing atmosphere.