John Beltran, Amazing Things

[Delsin]


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When you look at it, John Beltran has had quite the remarkable career. He started in the early 90s, around the same time as legendary names like Chandler and Craig. He’s proven similarly prolific, with half a dozen albums and a multitude of singles to his name. His consistency is unquestionable, too, regardless of whether he’s covering techno, Latin-inflected house, IDM, downtempo, future jazz, or, most famously, ambient. But if the American’s profile is smaller than those of the aforementioned giants, it’s no doubt because ambient has so little impact at clubs, the primary place where electronic music is broadcast, consumed, passed on, and fondly remembered. It’s a shame, because Beltran’s sound remains one of the most instantly recognizable there is, even on this eighth album, Amazing Things. His first in six years, the LP showcases plenty that’s familiar from his past, while still keeping a few tricks up its sleeve. In this sense, perhaps the most notable cut is “Seasons Go,” which seems to reference Burial. Set atop garage-like beats, its lilting vocals and vinyl-bred crackles recall the best moments of Untrue, only this time with the addition of beautifully lucid synths.

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Similarly, “Het Leven Is Mooi” employs the mosaic-like percussion so often favored by contemporary artists outside of the traditional house/techno sphere, while remaining an excellent vehicle for dainty, lullaby-like melodies. Continuing on the outsider theme, some tracks don’t even sound sequenced at all. “Flower Power Nuclear Submarine,” for instance, seems like the kind of instrumental a modern indie band might create, all gentle drums, bright synths, and carefully placed snatches of guitar. “Our Second Summer” takes a comparable approach, muffled kicks and dreamy vocals this time sloshing haphazardly around the spectrum with the guitars. Mostly, however, Beltran sticks to his old guns, and they’ve been kept well-oiled. There’s “Medellin,” a deeply moving piece of ambient, where sad howls and harp-like plucks shift calmly about. Or “For Vangelis,” which achieves the same atmosphere using slightly moodier sounds. In the jazz/Latin department, another large part of Beltran’s identity, there are also plenty of thrills. “Clouds Pull” and “Esperanto” are the best of this bunch, pairing jaunty pianos with golden strings and glassy synths, respectively. It’s clear then, that diversity and personal innovation aren’t an issue when it comes to Amazing Things. Though its 17 tracks run for under an hour, it feels like there’s far more to dig through and digest than on a normal, eight- or 10-track LP. Conversely, though, these multifarious pieces tend to hamper establishment of any solid narrative, making Amazing Things feel more like a compilation than anything else. In this capacity, however, it’s splendid in John Beltran’s particular fairy tale-like way. Just don’t expect to listen to it end-to-end too often.

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