There seems to be a common theme occurring among the exports coming from the UK, with artists like James Holden and Four Tet having defied the meaning of a standard electronic record. Rather than create an album for a dance-floor, they explore sonic scapes of what would be categorised as archetypal electronic music, as well as sounds and drones that wouldn’t normally belong in music.
Floating Points’ debut album Elaenia, makes UK artist the epitome of this trend. Floating Points, a.k.a Sam Shepherd, doesn’t tread lightly along the fringes of the electronic music. Instead, he moves powerfully and purposefully between jazz, ambient hip-hop grooves, broken-beat and electronica. Growing up, Shepherd was a chorister at Manchester Cathedral and went on to study piano at Chetham’s School of Music. This foundation provided him with the understanding of jazz and classical music, with its texture and subordinate chordal accompaniment. These discoveries are something that Shepherd has carried with him in his songwriting and arrangement today, seen in his previous releases ‘Vacuum Boogie’, ‘ARP3’ and ‘Nuit Sonores’ – but most prominently in Floating Points Ensemble. Elaenia returns briefly to Shepherd’s Floating Points Ensemble (a 16-piece group led by himself, which won the 2010 Worldwide Award for the ‘Best BBC Radio 1 Maida Vale’ session), with ‘Silhouettes (I, II & III)’.
His remarkable skill in composition, along with harmonies, progressions, and instrumentation ensemble, make this one of the highlight tracks of the record. ‘Silhouettes (I, II & III)’ is a number that really brings out his jazz lounge vibe to the forefront. Clocking in at just under 11 minutes, Floating Points delicately builds with powerful swirling brass, high string melodies, dappling synths and drones. Starting with a relentless drumbeat, the track delves into a romantic soundscape with violin melodies that swoon and hoist you up to a level of euphoria. With an angelic hymn fluttering around the peripherals, Floating Points commands listener’s’ attention through its powerful shrilled strings. When it comes to creative expression through music, Floating Points has no boundaries.
The album’s title-track was inspired by a dream where a bird was trapped in a forest after reading David Eagleman’s Sum. What follows is a rich lullaby that flits between meticulously positioned layers of dream-like piano, and resounding synth. ‘Elaenia’ is a beautiful in its delivery – glitchy and weighted with the buzz of static, it spends its seven minutes meandering about the forest, watching the bird struggle to free itself.
As one of the co-founders of Eglo Records alongside Alexander Nut responsible for the releases of artists like Fatima, Kirkis, and FunkinEven, it’s safe to say that the pair have sort out the a diverse mix of U.K Hip Hop or Dego and soul infused breakbeat. This depth of insight into these genres allows him to develop his own rhythmic accents that complement his own brand. While a fan of experimental composition, Shepherd practices control and constraint over his arrangements. Executed with the assuredness of a virtuoso beyond his 29-years, ‘For Marmish’, showcases his ability to work with lucid instrumentation. Ethereal and still in this dream-like state, he creates moments that twinkle when the elements are striped down to simple chords.
Originally set to be a 43-minute track, Shepherd opted instead, to chop it up into seven tracks – moving away from friend Four Tet who recently released Morning/Evening, comprising of two 20-minute tracks. With the fluidity of the ocean’s ebb, each track retreats and rolls into the other; while some tracks have moments of heaviness that juxtapose with feathery strings, other times tracks grow more aggressive without warning. As Floating Points embarks on his closing track, he enters with solidary strumming of a guitar that builds in mystical piano keys. He progresses with a slow rising track that moves listeners with its resounding cymbals and deep string grooves. Finally embracing the chaos of the band, he splashes colours over his canvas with unrestrained heavy jazz stylings that suddenly stops without warning and seems unfinished. Easily the edgiest track of Elaenia, Floating Points explores moments of electronic jazz fusion with an intensity that comes to a peak with a rich piano melody. This jutting ending is almost as though an abrupt awakening from a nightmare; which would follow nicely from Shepherd’s core influence.
Shepherd spends his days in a science lab as a neuroscientist and just recently completed his PhD neuroscience and epigenetics at University College London. While he denies any connection between his music and science it does proves that he is one impressive man beyond music – and a man with an open mind, willing to explore new grounds – and Elaenia does just that.