Floating Points: Elaenia

Scott Wallace
4th Nov 2015

Elaenia, the first full-length album by Floating Points, seems to exist outside of time. Its jazz- and classical-influenced melodicism harkens back to a golden age of techno when artists like Matthew Herbert and Squarepusher were pushing the limits of how warm and inviting electronic music could be. At the same time though, Elaenia is a forward-thinking, restless record that evokes its own unique sound world.

Floating Points is Manchester-born and London-based PhD student, classically-trained composer and producer Sam Shepherd, who has been releasing music under the Floating Points moniker since 2009. His work is in stark opposition to the current heap of electronic artists such as Caribou, Four Tet and Jamie xx, for whom blocky beats and repetition are the order of the day. On this record, Floating Points’ music stretches out into great oceans of silence and sound, floating on waves of tension and release that betray his background in more traditionally expressive musical forms.

Opener “Nespole” seems to fumble out of inky blackness, blossoming from next-to-nothing to something beautiful and expansive. Blinking, twinkling sounds emerge all around like a tunnel of stars. It’s an arresting and breathtaking intro. The following eleven-minute suite “Silhouettes (I, II & III)” has all the elegant composition and swinging beats of prime-era Charles Mingus, but with sweeping, burbling electronic textures.

Shepherd has a scientific mind and a love of machines, and in keeping with that Elaenia evokes various things from black holes, to space travel, to humming electric currents to blinding lights. It’s music that’s at once both abstract and textural, most notably on the title track’s cerebral computer noises and exploratory keyboards, or the spiralling arpeggios of “Argenté.” On this record, Shepherd shows that not only does he have a knack for form and structure, but also for texture and dynamics.

The whole record is constructed like a suite, with tracks flowing effortlessly into one another. Ostensibly it’s seven separate compositions, but they are arranged with stunning cohesion, even while showing a huge range. The aforementioned “Argenté” is perhaps the most traditional ambient-style track here, but it flows in a natural way into the pitter-pattering, rubbery and barely-there Tropicália of “Thin Air.”

The album moves along so easily and engagingly that you expect some sort of payoff at the end. It never really comes; the record peaks in energy early on and comes to a slow end with its two most traditionally jazz-oriented pieces. It’s a journey that concludes with a cliffhanger. For some, the record’s lack of real catharsis or drama may be frustrating – perhaps a sign of unfulfilled ambition.

Elaenia is a journey through a beautiful and beguiling world. There are many contemporary reference points for the music on this album – most notably Flying Lotus – but Shepherd has still managed to carve out his own niche and his own voice in the world of electronic music. Sometimes it sounds as if it’s striving to be a masterpiece, and it’s not quite there yet, but Eleania is still a lovely record with which to escape the corporeal world for a little while. 

Elaenia is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday November 6. Floating Points is taking over Oxford Art Factory on Saturday December 19.