Floating Points is the name under which London-based composer and producer Sam Shepherd operates. In biographical terms, describing Floating Points is easy, but it becomes a little trickier trying to explain what Elaenia is. The album is about as smooth and welcoming as any you’ll hear all year, and yet its constant sense of quiet experiment makes it near impossible to categorize. It has an almost flirtatious relationship with several genres without ever committing to one, its warmth making that imagery feel a little less ridiculous.
Opener “Nespole” is beatless electro, built around a looped melody, ambient textures, and eventually a bass line that becomes a pulse and quietly brings the song to life, and yet it has the feel of tropicana without any of that music’s usual tropes. “Argente” begins in a similar fashion but builds with a greater sense of urgency, finally evoking Vangelis of all people towards its climax. “Thin Air” strays a little closer to techno without the genre’s usual pounding release, while “For Mamish” actually recalls a Bon Iver melody throughout its otherwise lush duration.
All of these reference points come together in the eleven-minute, three-part suite “Silhouettes,” which forms the undeniable core of Elaenia. Its mixture of jazz, electronic, live instrumentation, and even dub might not be anything earth shattering on an initial listen, but it is composed with a rare elegance and ease. The drums that underpin the track are flawless and allow Shepherd to take everything else in various directions, but these explorations remain seamless rather than jarring. Midway through the track, it’s startling to realize that human voices have drifted into the mix, their presence so natural you could have missed them.
I rarely criticize an album for being too short, but at times Elaenia does feel like a tease, a taste of something much greater to come. The seven-minute title track has a less palatable ambient formlessness, drifting towards a destination without ever really getting anywhere. On a tight album that can comfortably fit on a single LP, its presence feels a little like dead space considering the wonderful sense of economy and time on the rest of the album.
If the basis of success for a musician is to leave the listener wanting more, then Elaenia definitely works. There’s more than enough evidence of Shepherd’s unique insight and musicianship here, and it is an album to live in and live with. By the time the record reaches its driving and dramatic climax at the end of “Perforation Six” (along with “Silhouettes,” it is the album’s other inarguable triumph), you’re left with the realization that there are very few avenues closed to Shepherd’s vision in the future. So while it’s difficult to explain exactly what Floating Points is, it is much easier to recommend it as a blueprint for something special.
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