Release Date: Nov 6, 2015
Record label: Luaka Bop
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
Floating Points, AKA Sam Shepherd, has a repuation for being a DJ’s DJ, but for his debut full-length he has made an improvisational suite of songs that have more in common with jazz and classical than club thumpers. Like his friends Four Tet and Caribou, his music has a meditative quality and builds like a late-night set, though Elaenia is in a flock of its own. It’s so tightly wound with ideas that there’s always something new to unravel, but that doesn’t mean it’s a knotty listen: it builds delicately and almost imperceptibly, until you’re not so much lost in sound as wrapped in it like a fleecy blanket.
Slight and anticlimactic are terms of dissatisfaction that could be used by certain listeners as a reaction to Elaenia, the first full-length from Sam Shepherd, aka Floating Points. Those who have been attentive since the brainiac producer's earliest releases are more likely to hear the 43-minute album as a modest culmination of progressions and refinements traceable throughout what preceded it. Shepherd began in 2009 with swinging post-dubstep/house hybrids.
The title track of Sam Shepherd's debut album as Floating Points was inspired by a dream: A migratory bird strays from its flock and is swallowed up by the forest, mimicking the way our atoms are absorbed into the fabric of the universe when we die (or so goes one theory, anyway). We might find ourselves "reincarnated as a SIM card in Singapore, or as a beetle in Scotland," as Shepherd told Pitchfork recently. He recorded the song "Elaenia" the very next morning, and its improvised, fluid form mirrors the dream's holistic vision.
Floating Points is the trading name of Sam Shepherd, a 29-year-old Londoner who’s recently completed a PhD in neuroscience and epigenetics (and not the musicOMH writer of the same name). In between his academic studies, Shepherd has formed and co-run a label, Eglo, and has released a succession of white label singles and an EP. In November of this year, he finally released his debut full-length, Elaenia.
For an artist so highly regarded for consistency, Sam Shepherd hasn't really stuck with a particular sound for very long. His precociously gifted and prodigiously clever talents have opened his compositions to more nuance and deeper complexity with each iteration of Floating Points—the shifting continuum between "Nuits Sonores" and "For You" leans as much on his early classical training as it does his lauded Plastic People residency. Shepherd's virtuosity has afforded no jarring missteps along the way, and it continues in kind throughout his long-awaited debut album.
Every so often, a wordless electronic record turns up that genuinely doesn’t sound like much else around, mixing digitals with real instruments, and vestigial dance cadences with a restless jazz feel. James Holden’s The Inheritors was that record of 2013, and Elaenia, the debut of neuroscience PhD-cum-DJ Sam “Floating Points” Shepherd, joins Holden, Four Tet and a few others in this recherché fraternity. These seven elegant tracks have Persian rug-levels of process and detail; one, Nespole, is named after the Italian for medlars.
Sam Shepherd has brought both his academic knowledge of music and bountiful DJing experience to bear on his first, concise long player. This follows a stack of singles, principally for his own Eglo imprint but also for taste-making labels such as Ninja Tune and Planet Mu. The resulting, long-gestating album benefits from both a talented set of contributors and unfathomably warm analogue synths.
The story behind the making of ‘Elaenia’ is almost as interesting as the album itself. Sam Shepherd spent five years putting the record together, juggling production with DJing around the world and travelling around the world. Oh, and there was also the small matter of completing a PhD in neuroscience. If that didn’t make you think he’s been a busy man, in that time Shepherd has also been a resident at the celebrated though now-closed Plastic People, and put music out on an array of well-respected labels.
Floating Points is the musical project of London's Sam Shepherd, who spent five years piecing together this debut album while working toward a PhD in neuroscience. A composer, engineer, chorister, DJ and producer all rolled into one, 29-year-old Shepherd has a touch of the mad scientist about him: His vision for Elaenia was so grand that he actually built a harmonograph, a modified Victorian mechanical contraption that he used to convert the synth parts on the standout track "For Mamish" into album art. But his years of relentless effort have paid off marvelously, and the album's lush jazz-ambient fusions confirm him as one of contemporary electronic music's most forward-thinking talents.
You'll have to forgive Sam Shepherd for taking seven years to release his first full-length record — he was busy earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience.After releasing a slew of white label records in 2008, Shepherd (aka Floating Points) went on to sharpen his craft by releasing a handful of 12-inches and EPs before forming the 16-member Floating Points Ensemble. The long-awaited Elaenia seems to benefit from this long gestation period, as the album's seven tracks are well conceived.
Floating Points makes dance music that's the absolute antithesis of EDM. Like his close friends and frequent DJing partners Kieran 'Four Tet' Hebden and Dan 'Caribou' Snaith, the producer (real name Sam Shepherd) is someone who brings such a calm and scholarly vibe to his music that it often feels as if it exists in a completely different universe to the creations of Steve Aoki and his ilk. His work is all about mathematical precision in everything that he does, and his new album, 'Eleania', takes that concept to new extremes.
Floating Points’ Sam Shepherd isn’t one for hard left-turns in his loosely beat-tethered meditations on worldly music, but the London musician and producer does have a tendency to upend expectations. On last year’s “King Bromeliad,” he opens with ambient conversation reminiscent of the intro to Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” — before he segues not into a floor-filler, but a stately organ- and upright bass-led free jazz jam. Another such moment closes Floating Points’ masterfully arranged debut LP, Elaenia.
Over the last five years, Sam Shepherd has built up an impressive collection of singles, EPs, and collaborations as Floating Points, from the pounding rhythms of his 2011 Shadows EP, to the shimmering house single “Sparkling Controversy”, to the funk-driven splendor of last year’s Nuits Sonores/Nectarines 12-inch. Shepherd has always been adept at blending together sounds from different realms, incorporating strains of soul and R&B into tracks fit for the dance floor. On his debut album, Elaenia, he strays from that hybridism, putting together a cohesive, involving piece inspired heavily by jazz that will likely confound and impress fans who have been following his output for the past half-decade.
Often when we speak about an artist’s evolution, we look at baby steps. We chart album by album, seeing the gradual slope and change to the work, how genres merge and blend over time. It is not so with Floating Points. The project has always been odd, formulating over jazz, wonky IDM, and a grab-bag of other sounds into a fluid niche of works, but Elaeina is a burst from a germ to something with tendons, flesh, and blood.
Sam Shepherd – the man, the neuroscientist, the DJ, the Plastic People resident – has finally released a debut album. It’s taken six years, and quite a few people have been waiting patiently. In fact some people, since hearing the irresistible shuffle of “Vacuum Boogie” near the end of the last decade, have been desperate. But if you had skipped the time in between and jumped straight in, you might be a bit surprised at the end product.
UK DJ/producer Floating Points (aka Sam Shepherd) has made a considerable name for himself in the left-field house scene, but his debut album doesn't have a single track for the dance floor. Instead, the songs on Elaenia sound closer to psychedelic jazz and post-rock, and feel more like improvised jam sessions than carefully sequenced electronic music. It's a risky strategy, but the gamble pays off big.