Album of the week: Placid Angels – Blue Sky

In the current resurgence of classic sounds from House and Techno, a host of young producers have surfaced, tilling forgotten fields of ambient, break beat and trance music in search of something refreshing in contemporary electronic music. Groups like Perishing Thirst facilitated by labels like NAFF and Magicwire are using ancient machines (and new versions of old ones) to create lush sonic echoes of the first decade of electronic music. They are succeeding in re-awakening a dormant musicality that has eroded to a bare functionality in the hands of DJs and through their interpretation of an old sound they’ve established the closest thing to a scene we’ve seen in some time. Some might just prefer to call it Trance, but it goes a little deeper that that with broken beats, and even dub influences cropping up in electronic music born of the dance floor, but exceeding the limits of the DJ booth.

Lone and Gabriola has been championing this sound at their joint venture Magicwire with the label providing a platform for new artists like Ex-Terrestrial and Ross from Friends to explore these retro musical worlds, which has begun to define the label with entrancing melodic pieces surfing on a more visceral wavelength. Although the label had been focussed on new artists for the most part, last year they assisted  John Beltram in reviving his Placid Angels alias for an LP that proved to be so popular, we’ve only managed to get our hands on a copy on the second run of pressings.Placid Angels is from an era of the archetype of this sound. The only other LP created under Placid Angels is the 1997 classic on Peacefrog today and its predecessor doesn’t fall far from the mark, bringing a lot of fans back to Beltram’s sound and introducing a whole new generation to the entrancing sound of that alias.

It makes an immediate impression as a dusty broken beat introduces the LP with “First Blue Sky” and chirping synthesisers and legato pads eventually smother the energetic beats in a ghostly ether. Placid Angels was always considered an ambient project in the Beltram catalogue, but ambient as a derivative of Techno, not quite beat-less, but hardly excessively percussive. Pads moving in windy glissandos dominate tracks, with happy arpeggios and sweeping melodic movements saturating the sonic atmosphere in bold strokes of synthetic tones.

Stripping back the humid layers of synthesisers and pads, often a raucous beat emerges, but you only really get a sense of their tumultuous energy when Beltram strips everything back to its foundations like on the opening of “Earth and Everything” or “First Blue Sky.” These moments really contrast the rest of the album as booming kick drums suggest a path that quickly diverts into an ambient realm, but it’s between these overt percussive rhythms and the striking melodies that a dynamic narrative exists on the album.

Beltram doesn’t however simply revive Placid Angels exactly like it was back in 1997 with “Cry,” as contemporary production touches and stylistic approaches modernise the project. Beltram’s pitchy treatment of vocals on tracks like “Vent” humanise the machine music in the latest century, with new techniques emboldening the synthetic sounds that would have often appear wispy and thin back in the nineties. Beltram doesn’t compromise on the Placid Angels sound on “Blue Sky” and in the twenty two years since “Cry” it seems it’s only matured as Beltram refines it in this  latest resurgence of a sound he helped establish the first time around.