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Placid Angles - First Blue Sky (Magicwire, 2019)

A trip through your mind from Mr Beltran.

Often with artists who leave aliases for years, they forget the meaning behind their original work and directions, and produce something that can seem a little bit too stuck in the past. However, on most occasions, producers have absorbed so much, new music a fresh injection into their creativity that bleeds into their new work, creating an album that honours their past creativity but exudes a breath of fresh air. A reflection almost of their past work, a sign of new things to come.

Listening to ‘First Blue Sky’, the listener is immediately reminded of just how good John Beltran is as a producer. His original LP release under this aliases, 1997’s brilliant ‘The Cry’, is a truly remarkable melodic dub techno release, and surely has its place amongst the most esteemed releases of the second techno generation. It was a statement of intent from a producer, and many wondered when this would resurrected. Now, in 2019, Beltran returns with a beautiful LP full of the old and the new, and perhaps a touch of the unexpected.

The opening title track immediately contextualises the rest of the feel of the album, a dreamy breakbeaty melodic trip that delves deep and soft in equal measure. The influence of Lone’s music is evident here, and it also explains much of his own respect for Beltran, with his music displaying the same level of harmony and beatiness throughout his own musical development. Up next is ‘Angel’, a more straight up techno beat with swinging chords that drive in and around the beat. It keeps the feel going, abit with a different rhythm, and its dynamic production value means it never stops engaging with the listener. Finally, ‘A moment away from you’, is a Rhythm is Rhythm throwback through and through, and quite rare for contemporary techno releases. Chaotic cymbals and snares compliment synth lines and echoed keys to great effect, and complete a side of the record that displays the full set of Beltran’s musicality. The downtempo, the straight up, and the richness, all combined into three distinctive yet flowing tracks.

Perhaps the biggest surprise comes on ‘Vent’ on the B side. Burial style vocals draw into an ever increasing beat, building and building with its depth, chords on chords, drawing you into something that maybe is coming, yet its hard to anticipate if it's just another driving percussive techno track. Then, suddenly, a jungle kick comes in, and the track moves full circle. A perfect set up, and a wonderful move into the break. The vocal sustain continues, maintaining the link between the two musical variants. Then, as the drums have done their work, the chords kick back in, as if they never left. The albums longest track, it never fails to lose its impact through its effortless transitions and solid musical base. As if the energy trip wasn’t enough, ‘Earth and Everything’ kicks in. A beautiful drum and bass rhythm (that almost sounds earthy and not electronically produced) undertones another classic melodic piece. A lovely singular key riff kicks in towards the end before a break down that brings the energy down just a little bit. A fitting end to a side exuding energy and passion. Simply joyous.

Side C sees the introduction of ‘Ocean Floor’, which sounds like a deep journey to the deep blue. A snapshot of classic IDM 90s sounds, deep bass kicks, frantic cymbals and snares, a remarkable 2 minute long trip. The only gripe with it is its length! But perhaps the design here is its shortness compliments the other much longer tracks, a brief encounter with a tune dripping in emotion and danceability. It does set the next track, ‘Bad minds’, perfectly. Arguably the standout track on the album (which is very debatable, given the strength of the entire album), this track just bounces beautiful, building layer upon layer to a climax of sonic chords before a mesmerising synth line takes the dancers way to the next level. Its intelligence in its composition and scenes make this a massive head bouncer, a tune that seamlessly blends the deep hues of 90s house and melodic techno with a more modern twist. Then the trip goes so very deep on ‘1700’, a masterpiece, in many ways. Evoking, harrowing, dreamy, spacey, this is a true embodiment of Beltran’s work. Closing your eyes to this track takes you so another level, into the sky, a wonderful slow burner to end the energy of the previous track.

‘Breathe her in’ continues on the downtempo ambient feel, except for the energetic drums that groove in about half way through. The two tracks are so in sync, almost like a part one and two. Another deep dip into Beltran’s bowl of musical influences and styles, the beauty of the track simply highlights this man’s ability to create an album full of intrigue and euphoria in equal measure. The final track, ’soft summer (revisited)’, is a lovely drippy IDM techno vibe, downtempo enough to end the album on a stunning high whilst pulsating enough to make you just want to listen to it all over again. A fitting end to an album with emotion and energy coursing through its veins.

John Beltran has always been on the minds of techno fans since his early releases on Carl Craig’s Retroactive label, and others. His signature blend of old school techno and integration of other genres made him a beloved member of the new school of Detroit techno. This album confirms his relevancy and ability as a producer to navigate several styles of music whilst staying true to his personal sound. An undeniable masterpiece, Beltran really does provide a series of contexts and scenes for the listener to delve into, environments for his music to be enjoyed in. At times, the music is transcendent, moving us beyond to places never explored before. It is the overall depth and beauty of this record that draws you in and keeps you just wanting to listen to it one more time over. Hopefully this is just a sign of things to come from Placid Angles.

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