Release Date: Jul 22, 2016
Record label: Luaka Bop
Genre(s): Electronic, Experimental Electronic, Ambient Techno, Modern Creative
The exact details of Sam Shepherd’s PhD research remain unknown to this reviewer for obvious reasons. This superb, EP-length follow-up to last year’s justifiably acclaimed Elaenia - the first Floating Points album after a sporadic run of singles over a number of years - suggests that the former student of neuroscience may well have dedicated his thesis to researching the human nervous system’s susceptibility to heroically extended electro-jazz workouts, with the Kuiper EP providing the point where the hypothesis is tested in practice. Speaking of theory, describing the two sprawling cuts on Kuiper EP without provoking anti-noodling prejudices can be a challenge; on paper, both provide a fairly effective dictionary definition of conceptually advanced but really quite dry tedium.
Sam Shepherd, the electronic musician better known as Floating Points, may be the only well-established recording artist with a PhD in neuroscience. But he’s also a rarity in that while his early releases were largely electronic-based singles and EPs, he began branching out last year with a more organic, full-band sound. This has largely worked to his advantage.
Following up Floating Points' widely acclaimed Elaenia was always going to be difficult, but Kuiper finds Sam Shepherd eschewing the typically episodic tendency of self-contained music releases. This EP reveals Shepherd's stream of thought never ended when "Peroration Six" cut to black; he picks up here where that song left off, with a two-track snapshot of a rise and comedown after his full-length's breathless end. The first of Kuiper's tracks evokes the long-awaited ending scene that Elaenia might have had, painstakingly moulded by a manic writer who's been unleashed by a creative epiphany.
Sam Shepherd has ensured that critically reviewing his records these days has lost some of its value. Since his Floating Points alias broke back in 2009 he’s barely hit a dud note, getting lapped up by all variety of consumers. It’s been an assured, unfaltering stream of creativity, yet one with plenty of twists and turns. It seems that his confidence has augmented with every release, taking with it a preparedness to dive into divergent styles and approaches, giving the whole thing an unpredictable edge (and keeping us reviewers coming back).Late last year, Elaenia, his first full-length, made it to the masses.
Musicians work under different aliases for a number of reasons, the most prominent being to reset or deter expectations. This happens often in the world of dance or electronic music. There’s often a certain utility to it, with producers siloing off their house and techno works, knowing they’ll appeal to different audiences. Sometimes the reasoning is more pragmatic: to avoid legal problems or, for the prolific, to ease DJs into buying multiple records by a single artist.
Last fall, Sam Shepherd, better known as Floating Points, released the exceptional Elaenia to widespread acclaim. The album was a masterwork of jazz-influenced electronics, with Shepherd utilizing live instrumentation to craft intricate, free-flowing suites. After years of EPs and singles that found him exploring different elements of downtempo and techno, Elaenia was the sound of Shepherd pushing his boundaries and finding his voice.
Under the Floating Points moniker, Sam Shepherd blurred the lines between classical composition, modern electronic production, and jazz experimentation on last year's debut Elaenia. Whether his PhD in neuroscience had any effect on the precisely measured and experimental nature of his music is for the listener to decide, but what the record did make clear was that Shepherd is one of the true innovators in modern music. The two-track Kuiper EP is the superb album's follow-up, but sadly lacks the same intrigue that defined its predecessor.
One of the things that made Sam Shepherd's (aka Floating Points) 2015 LP, Elaenia, so striking was how it took EDM sensibilities and mapped them out onto a post-rock arc, making its dancey rhythms and textures into an album-length suite with the drama and dynamism of a traditional symphony. In many ways, the two-track Kuiper EP is a recreation of that experiment on more modest terms, showcasing the touring ensemble's dynamic range and the long-form arrangements that Shepherd has such strong instincts for. The first track is an 18-minute live set taped during an early morning session while on tour.