John Beltran’s 1996 album Ten Days of Blue is an under-appreciated ambient techno classic, a luminous yet hard-edged collection of aquatic, Detroit-inflected drum ’n’ pad workouts. What makes it so remarkable is Beltran’s razor-sharp rhythmic sensibility. His love for searching, billowing synth chords, far from pushing his drums aside, allowed him to birth a genuinely new sound—a dense, romantic clatter of brassy, New Age-influenced devotionals speckled with bursts of rolling, interlocking rides and snares.
Beltran debuted Placid Angles with 1997’s The Cry, reviving it over two decades later with 2019’s First Blue Sky. His work as Placid Angles gradually introduced more beatless tracks, driven by echoing field recordings and plaintive synths. Touch The Earth is a further refinement of this approach—a nostalgic reshuffling of signature ’90s sounds shot through with the energy of newer, moodier strands of club music.
In an interview, Beltran describes recording over the same tape repeatedly until the track is “cluttered with hiss,” an ever-shifting mass of rhythm and color. This tension between airiness and density, float and heft—just like that between the chill-out room and dancefloor at the heart of “ambient techno”—is what sustains this music. Highlight “Our Love Is The Place” is classic Beltran, a shuffling, clacking drum pattern riding waves of hymnal swells, while “Dakota” unfolds almost frenetically, a dubbed-out duet between a blinking, double-time tom-and-clap phrase and a perfectly corny sax sample.
Perhaps the most visible Beltran acolyte is Lone, who released First Blue Sky on his label Magicwire; traces of Beltran abound in Lone’s finest work. Still, while Beltran undeniably has fans, he remains mostly in the margins. This is likely due to the very thing that makes his work compelling: Beltran’s music has a refreshing but decidedly “uncool” earnestness that, even today, manages to channel the sense of pure, naïve exploration that fueled much of the best golden-era club music. Here, the joy is in witnessing a now-familiar sonic language in its process of development, simply reaching for whatever sounds right.