Album Review: Reflections: Mojave Desert by Floating Points
Great, Based on 7 Critics
The Observer (UK) - 80 Based on rating 4/5
A s the name suggests, Floating Points are hard to pin down. One iteration of Sam Shepherd's outfit consists of banging DJ sets with Four Tet and Caribou; the first album, Elaenia (2015), by contrast, consisted of an immersive tableau of drones, jazz and analogue burbles. Its equally involving successor relocates from London to the Mojave desert with a live band; a short film accompanies the release.
Anyone who's seen Floating Points live in the last year or so will be primed for this. The pure house of early releases is long gone, and though the rippling modular synths and elegant jazz-fusion drumming of 2015's 'Elaenia' are still present, the ebb and flow of this album is dominated by a slow-burn, highly considered instrumental psych-rock sound. It was recorded at the base of huge rock formations in the actual Mojave desert (apparently, this release is just the first of a series of"responses" to landmarks encountered on the producer's travels) and it certainly sounds as big, occasionally bleak and often beautiful as the landscapes it's inspired by .
The origin of Sam Shepherd's latest EP Reflections - Mojave Desert is an odd one. After traveling to the Mojave Desert and landing in Joshua Tree National Park, Shepherd indulged in his surroundings and ended up creating a short film, all soundtracked by the echoes and reverberations reflecting off the park. To most producers, this approach to recording might seem a bit onerous, but Shepherd's background as a neuroscientist seems a better explanation for the EP, and the difference is in the details.
At one point in Reflections - Mojave Desert, a short film released in conjunction with Floating Points' soundtrack, director Anna Diaz Ortuño films Sam Shepherd swinging what looks like a satellite dish in circles in the middle of the arid California landscape. It's for the recording of the interstitial track "Kites," wherein Shepherd rotates a parabolic Telinga microphone, generally used for field recordings, to capture the sound of an EMS Synthi as it bounces off a constellation of rock structures. A curious thing happens across the track's brief three minutes: It's when the mic is turned away from the source that it sounds most natural, rather than when it faces the clear signal.
With three EPs already under his belt but just the one full length record to his name, Sam Shepherd of Floating Points has made a good go at carving out a burgeoning and extremely well-respected niche for himself so far, and the release of this latest short film and soundtrack, Reflections - Mojave Desert, sees him flexing his creative muscles to fine effect yet again. Aside from a formal training in piano, a fondness for jazz and a knack for orchestration, Shepherd also has a pHd in epigenetics and neuroscience from University College London. It's a sign perhaps of his analytical mind that he's drawn to constructing complex, freeform soundscapes that are this far ranging and sweeping.
Sam Shepherd's first album Elaenia (2015) was an RC hit. It was an analogue synthfest that managed to be relevant, while also redolent of vintage Tangerine Dream, and flecked with many other influences. Elaenia certainly had a progressive thread, but (while some of the kosmische feel returns here, notably on the bloopy Kites), pure prog is now to the fore, imposingly so at times.
Nominally, the desert is a 'waterless, desolate land', a 'situation or place considered dull and uninteresting'. Verbally, it speaks of abandonment. Hardly a place for creative inspiration or experimentation then. Yet, Sam Shepherd, AKA Floating Points, is never one to shy away from a challenge ….