Under his Floating Points moniker, Sam Shepherd has over the past six years borne out a reputation as one of the most singular and innovative figures in British dance music. His catalogue of releases chalked up during the period – see: “King Bromeliad”, “Vacuum Boogie”, “Nuits Sonores”, “Wires”, “APR3” etc. – has often pulled apart and re-purposed a number of genres for his own freeform designs, and has displayed Shepherd’s obsessive passion for a broad array of styles and records.
For this album, then, a good many fans were expecting something that looked like: ‘Floating Points does an hour of experimental club bangers and houses them in an LP’. Those people will be disappointed with Elaenia. But they shouldn’t be – what the Manchester-born, now London-based Shepherd has put out here is something far more interesting and nuanced than any of the speculative colours various critics and fans had predicted he’d (finally) nail to the mast.
The short and initially fidgety “Nespole”, which gets proceedings going – and which was leaked ahead of the full LP release, as was follow-on “Silhouettes (I, II & III)” – quickly settles into a delicate, ordered medley of beat-less samples that fold in on each other beautifully and carry the listener into the more heady flow of the wider record. Its successor (the “Silhouettes” trio), on the other hand, has more in common with Shepherd’s previous body of releases. This sonic triptych is a sweeping, ten-minute-long set piece, full of recycled jazz-funk motifs, occasional dissonance and a brooding bass line that all drive toward what, in moments, feels like a constantly deferred crescendo. It’s an offering that uncovers both Shepherd’s formal chorister and jazz backgrounds – with the choice inclusion of choral harmonies to accompany his string arrangement – as well as a brilliantly deployed jazz drummer to counterpoint his programmed beats and drive the song forward with a more human, irregular sense of urgency.
Shepherd’s title track gracefully stumbles and glides its way through a quiet transition phase in the album, before the more purposeful “Argenté” pushes Elaenia from its quite controlled first half on into the measured releases of chaos in the second. Cascading synth lines (carried over from earlier songs) and a pattering drum machine on “Thin Air” give way to the rolling grooves of “For Marmish”, whose slow-burning glow feels more like the Floating Points releases his followers have gotten used to over the past couple of years.
Along with “Peroration Six”, it’s the place where a lot of the album’s eddying flavours come together to make up its grand finish – layers upon layers of percussion, some beautifully rich polyphonic textures and post-rock-esque guitars (check out his RBMA lecture and Shepherd’s declared obsession with Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock for more on that). There are a couple of moments where you can hear the mutual influence of Four Tet (the drones on the first minute or two of Elaenia and this summer’s Evening Side, for instance), an electronic musician with whom Shepherd has spent a good deal of time over the last few years, and whose own eclectic, at times ‘cerebral’ tastes (the two are considered to be at the more intellectual end of dance music) have clear crossover points with those of the doctorate-holding Mancunian composer.
On Elaenia, Sam Shepherd continues to remain elusively hidden behind a captivating stylistic veil as Floating Points, and he successfully marries his formative musical upbringing with the electronic world that has propelled his career forward. It’s certainly not a dance music record he’s given us here. But its transcendent beauty and restless, improvisational energy deserve to hook in both his club-going fans and a previously unfamiliar, non-devotee audience alike.
By Tommy Greene
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