During the last couple of years, Mancunian producer and multi-instrumentalist Samuel T Shepherd has definitely made himself a reputation as one of the most talented and inspiring artists in the English underground musical scene. With his Floating Points moniker he delivered numerous interesting EPs and the critically acclaimed LP Elaenia: an impressive debut that amalgamated post-rock, nu jazz and progressive electronic elements.
Shepherd is an extremely eclectic artist and for his sophomore record called Reflections – Mojave Desert he surely decided to take some risks, stepping aside from the sonic coordinates of his previous works and embracing a totally different way of producing. With his crew of reliable performers, he explored the Mojave Desert as a recording environment, finding it extremely peculiar and perfectly fitting for their purposes: the reverberation of rocks, the sound of the wind between them, the complete stillness at night and the roaming of wild animals fascinated the band to the point they decided to record the entire album out there.
The unique surroundings shaped the songwriting process as Shepherd abandoned the cello and the violins of Elaenia, utilizing instead an electric piano, synths and sequencers to create a complex stratification of carpet of sounds. These floors are suiting spectacularly over the field recordings and samples, generating a delicate atmosphere that permeates the whole album. It’s also definitely necessary to mention the fantastic cover which perfectly recapitulates the sensations given by the listening.
Floating Points, at just 24 years of age, is capable of etching great melodies and progressions with the use of synths and organs, but his technical prowess is never for its own sake. “Mojave Desert” represents the intro, sounds like a landing in the bare desert, with a minimalistic use of synths that doesn’t obscure the field recordings, actually it gives them some radiance. The second track, entitled “Silurian Blue”, has been released as a single not long ago and it serves as a microcosm of the entire work: a Fender Rhodes opens the song and is combined with a lead synth towards the 1:20 mark, creating a crescendo where bass, drums and guitars can blossom into a dense kraut jam. Just when the track is gently coming to an end, an Hammond Organ joins in and picks up all of the tension just before the outro. One of the least impressive moments of Reflections is the transition between second and third track, sounding out of place inside the flow of the listening.
The sequencer’ loops of the succint third song “Kelso” fade into the 12 minutes long fourth track “Kelso Dunes”. It’s nothing short of an amazing jam, lead by the bass until synths, guitars and organ explode into a spacey climax with crystal clear post-rock influences, such as Explosions In The Sky or early Mogwai. The tempo keeps swinging all along the track featuring great drumwork from Leo Taylor, with his style that sounds born to fit with the guitars of Alex Reeve and Matthew Kirkis: the latter represents a new addition to the collaborators of Floating Points, but the chemistry with the other musicians is already steady. “Lucerne Valley” concludes the album in stunning fashion with a great melody played on a Rhodes piano, while in the background a slide guitar come and fades, building a meditative, desolate spell.
Reflections – Mojave Desert suffers few flaws for a couple of reasons, one these being the poor 29 minutes long length which, especially considering the dilated atmosphere, drops a sense of unfinishedness to the entire record, while here and there some transitions don’t feel as smooth as the majority of them. It is also comprehensible that many listeners were awaiting a bolder, avant-garde record and some of them won’t be 100% satisfied with this experiment, that will much likely stand as a sole episode in Shepherd’s discography.
This said the new effort by Floating Points is an extremely multi-colored work that once internalized, will remain on your turntable for a long time.