Late Night Tales: Floating Points

Soothing, calming selections from Sam Shepherd.
Author:
Publish date:
floatingpoints_latenighttales_albumcover

Score: 7.5/10

I once heard Floating Points DJ in bright sunshine and was disappointed: he played a forgettable mix of funk and disco that bore little resemblance to his production work. His best music is masterfully paced, transitioning effortlessly between the calm and the cacophonous, and it's better suited to a patient listener than a raucous crowd. This sets him up perfectly for a Late Night Tales mix: the solitary, nocturnal headphones-wearer has always been the series' target audience, and beneath the night sky’s warm blanket, FloPo—real name Sam Shepherd—feels at ease, crafting a soothing, drifting set that feels intimately connected with its listener. 

Many of Shepherd’s shrewdest selections here are beatless—take Sarah Davachi’s “Untitled, live in Portland." Sombre and almost dour, it’s not the sort of thing you’d put on to entertain guests, but in the right ears it’s deeply affecting, like just about anything Davachi does. As an opener—and exclusive to the mix—it crawls inside your consciousness, establishes a serious, contemplative mood, and shoos away any thoughts you had about going out tonight, or ever again. 

There’s an indulgent loneliness to “Moments In Love” too, an excerpt from Kara-Lis Coverdale’s Grafts EP which Shepherd plays around 45 minutes later. Following two wonderful, spindly guitar tracks from obscure ‘70s space-rocker Alain Bellaïche, Coverdale’s composition offers nine minutes of somnambulant ringing that dissolve time into a meaningless goo. Like the Davachi track, “Moments In Love” is all about examining a single note from 360 different angles, like turning life’s problems over and over in your head while lying awake at night. 

Yet the mix is by no means depressing. Among its long, ambient dirges are a number of warming soulful selections, the hallmark of any good LNT (Bonobo’s inclusion of Darondo’s “Didn’t I” sticks in the memory beautifully.) A standout here is “Glowin’” by The Rationals, a lesser known garage soul outfit hailing from 1960s Michigan who make Grizzly Bear sound like a tribute act. Their inclusion is surprising but smooth, and indicative of Shepherd’s love for digging deep. 

Another strangely moving tune is Azimuth’s “The Tunnel,” which is sandwiched between Coverdale’s “Moments In Love” and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s “Milk.” Not to be confused with Brazilian jazz-funkers Azymuth, Azimuth were a British band from the late 1970s who combined Norma Winstone’s smoky, pre-Sade voice with pianist John Taylor and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (whose “Sweet Time Suite” is covered by Shepherd later on.) “The Tunnel” comprises those three elements sparsely and brilliantly, but is carried by a Tangerine Dream-y Moog line, a musical impression of floating out into space. 

It feels a bit like it’s building up to something. Much like in, say “Kuiper,” Shepherd lulls us into a blissful vulnerability, the perfect state in which to be hit with both barrels. Instead he allows his listener to wallow, using first Aurelia Smith and then “Nimb#59” by Japanese improvisational wizard Toshimaru Nakamura to create a sleepy, unoppressive ambiance. It’s not quite as impactful as his own music, though it’s far from unpleasant. 

Before you drift off, in comes Lauren Laverne with a reading of Emily Brontë’s “Ah! Why, Because The Dazzling Sun.” The poem is an ode to the nighttime and, like many of LNT’s customary bedtime stories (previously read by Alex Turner and Benedict Cumberbatch), it’s borderline twee. Laverne doesn’t quite match the croaky drawl of Lydia Lunch, whose reading on Badbadnotgood’s LNT made her sound as though she keeps Satan as a pet, but the poem’s celebration of darkness (“O Stars and Dreams and Gentle Night / O Night and Stars return! / And hide me from the hostile light / That does not warm, but burn”) fits snugly with the mix’s after-hour vibe.

Like every single track, the poem has been chosen with care and painstaking precision. And yes, that makes Shepherd a selector, free from the highly technical challenges of transitioning between songs. It means we’re free from critiquing his beatmatching ability, free from analysing the speed and timing of every knob turned, which if you ask me is closer to sport than art anyway. Instead we can focus on—and bask in—his excellent track selection. 

Many of Shepherd’s choices are the product of hours spent listening to music, a penchant for the obscure which is to be applauded, but the true art of DJing, as Shepherd exhibits here, lies in making connections between records—not based on genre or bpm, but because together they create the desired mood, tell a particular story, paint a certain picture; whatever the metaphor, it’s a skill not just in playing music, but in listening to it.

Listening to music is why we’re all here, at a time when such a practice is in a state of change. If you, like many of us, can’t be bothered deciding what to listen to, you could do a lot worse than letting Shepherd choose for you. His LNT is a soothing, calming mix for music lovers and night owls, with a human touch that’s impossible to replicate. 

Late Night Tales: Floating Points lands March 29, with pre-order here

Tracklisting

01. Sarah Davachi “Untitled, live in Portland” (Excerpt) (Exclusive track)

02. Carlos Walker “Via Láctea”

03. The Rationals “Glowin’"

40. William S. Fischer “Chains”

05. Max Roach “Equipoise”

06. Bobby Wright “Blood Of An American”

07. Sweet & Innocent “Express Your Love”

08. Robert Vanderbilt & The Foundation of Souls “A Message Especially From God”

09. The Defaulters "Gentle Man”

10. Alain Bellaïche “Sun Blues”

11. Alain Bellaïche “Sea Fluorescent”

12. Kara-Lis Coverdale “Moments In Love” (Excerpt)

13. Azimuth “The Tunnel"

14. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith “Milk" (Excerpt)

15. Toshimaru Nakamura “Nimb#59” (Exclusive track)

16. Floating Points—The Sweet Time Suite, Part I “Opening” (Exclusive Kenny Wheeler cover version)

17. Lauren Laverne—“Ah! Why, Because The Dazzling Sun” (Exclusive Emily Brontë spoken word piece)