Floating Points Shadows EP
Shadows is hardly an EP. Comprised of five tracks (the most on any solo Floating Points release to date) that total just under 40 minutes, Shadows has the feeling of a fully realized piece of music, and despite the two letters thrown at the end of the title, could really be considered the Ph.D student/UK wunderkind's first full-length. To his credit, Floating Points (a.k.a. Sam Shepherd) does not need more than five outings to fill an album-length release, as the songs here are immensely dense and show the artist's methodical ability to construct and tear down his own creations, which is, at times, simply awe-inspiring.
At their simplest, Shadows' offerings are pieces of jazz-infused garage in which thick electric piano and meandering electronics share the same space as rolling step patterns. The 10-minute opener, "Myrtle Avenue," serves as Shepard's most elongated exploration into this world, beginning with the distant firings of a sequenced pattern before taking form. From there, he builds a patient groove led by a beautifully melodic piano lick and reinforced by occasional bursts of arpeggios and gliding synths. Eventually, the electric piano and gliding synth move in unison, repeating a progression that is as intelligent as it is warm, all the while letting the rest of track's elements—drums, bass, and even a sparse female vocal (possibly from frequent collaborator Fatima)—fall into place around it. Like "Myrtle Avenue," the EP's other cuts have a remarkably natural flow to them, almost as if it wasn't a single person programming these musical events, but rather a number of musicians playing together and improvising the movements. Sure, that's romanticizing things a bit, as Shadows is obviously made of programmed compositions, but it is a testament to Shepherd's technique that the line between human and electronic performance becomes so blurred as the record unfolds.
The release's middle offerings put more of a focus on Floating Points' rhythmic abilities, with "Realise" pitting an almost-hesitant, stuttering beat amongst a lush soundscape and, again, occasional arpeggiated flares, while the following track, "Obfuse," ups the tempo to the 130-bpm range as it breaks down to a completely drum-driven affair for most of its four-plus minute run. "ARP3" is the most dancefloor-appropriate contribution on the EP, a song resembling Floating Points' ubiquitous "Vacuum Boogie" tune in its anthemic drive and infectious bass. But unlike Shepherd's perhaps best-known track, "ARP3" is a much more drawn-out endeavor (over nine minutes to be exact), and one which never reaches an apex but rather builds and builds only to drop us off at virtually the same place we began, enveloping the listener in its array of patterns along the way.
Shadows is bookended with its best contributions, and the closing number, "Sais", reveals itself as the most intriguing and sophisticated song Shadows has to offer. Moving gently along with a skittering beat, layers of lush pads and vibrant synths pile together before a string movement (performed by what sounds like an entirely human string quintet) enriches the tune even further. Again, Shepherd's electric piano trickles in with a number of melodic phrases and soulful chords (that may even be improvised) to reveal a song that is complex as it is inviting and memorable. Floating Points definitely does not subscribe to producing IDM, but there's really not a better way to describe Shadows then to say that it is truly intelligent dance music, and of the most rewarding sort at that.
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