Anyone lucky enough to see Floating Points (aka Sam Shepherd) DJ live, will know that he most certainly does things his way. From dropping in jazzy, ambient tracks when common sense would dictate it better to turn the crowd rabid with a euphoric banger to launching wave after wave of pounding beats onto an unsuspecting dancefloor, Shepherd’s sets are always unconventionally brilliant.
As a producer, his output has been similarly varied. From the remarkably expansive, Elaenia album to the progressive EP Reflections: Mojave Desert few common threads run through his work. It stands to reason, then, that new album, Crush would be one of the most delightfully unpredictable electronic albums released this year.
At times its an unapologetically, urgent, danceable record with stomping UK garage beats and sinewy, bassy rhythms that demand to be listened to at maximum volume in cavernous night clubs. Other times, tracks seem to fracture, mid-play with shards breaking off and taking on a whole new life of their own. Then there are moments of such tranquil, serene calm, that the listener can simply kick back and drift away.
“Falaise” glides in on a gently breaking wave of sumptuous strings, with Shepherd subtly stretching and warping the notes. Eventually, the various string lines come into full bloom at the same time, becoming a cacophony on a dramatic, electro-orchestral opening. “Last Bloom” is a far more uptempo, club-ready track based around a two-step kick drum beat and IDM blips and bleeps. It encapsulates Shepherd’s innate understanding of how to keep people on their feet as synth lines and beats swell with intensity before dropping away. Remarkably, it manages to feel both bulging with ideas and calmly uncluttered at the same time.
Better still is album highlight, “Anasickmodular”. Recalling Martyn’s house classic “Manchester” with shadowy, skittish garage breaks and an elongated, climbing synth figure. Slowly the track emerges from the darkness as Shepherd drenches it in the warming glow of a euphoric bassline before dismantling the mood with IDM spasms. It’s one of the defining tracks on the album, with Shepherd evoking contrasting moods and feelings before rupturing the equilibrium.
Shepherd wisely softens the mood on “Requiem for CS70 and Strings” with mournful strings and short busts of IDM glitchiness. On “Karakal”, Shepherd creates a real sense of depth with synths that rattle and bounce and sudden bursts of jarring white noise. It acts as the perfect, malfunctioning palette cleanser before the more familiar tech-house groove of “LesAplx”.
One of the most immediate tracks on the album, “LesAplx” is a multilayered dancefloor gem with sci-fi synths and stalking, churning beats. Also featuring a potent, rumbling bassline and full of subtle jazzy brush strokes, Shepherd manages to distill and bottle the essential elements of an immersive dancefloor filler. It’s a pulsating club track that’ll make its presence felt in DJ sets for years to come.
On “Bias”, Shepherd fires off piercing synth lines like tracer bullets as he skillfully takes his time to position the various facets of the track into place. Like a jigsaw puzzle, only when the pieces are in place is it possible to see the big picture. “Environments” is a wonderfully hectic track as Shepherd fuses moments of unbridled beauty with glitchy IDM mayhem. The outro becomes a full-on chaotic electronic groove fest that’ll twist the blood of any committed clubber.
“Sea-Watch” is a beatless, orchestral piece as Shepherd again eruditely articulates a keen sense of mood. The album concludes with “Apoptose, Pt. 1” and “Apoptose Pt. 2”, the former mixing jittery UK garage beats with late-night jazz synths while the latter goes for the IDM jugular with ticking percussion and bursts of noise.
Crush is an album of profound contrast. For every track designed to electrify the dancefloor, there is a gentle sweeping orchestral piece. At times it can feel that two albums are battling for attention at the same time as Shepherd takes the time to create a mood before happily trampling all over it. You can’t help but admire what a very forward-thinking, brave move that is. It makes for an intriguing, distinctive album that you feel time will be very kind to.