Great instrumental music has the capacity to take you out of yourself. Your emotional response is entirely dependent upon the notes, layers and textures, without language to influence and inform. Electronic music has often had the knack to induce wide-eyed euphoria by executing a neat switch or building a refrain up with such control that the release is felt by all. But, it often feels like you’re being manouevred into position for those big moments. It makes them no less thrilling but you can see them coming a mile off. Far more rare are pieces which play the long game, lulling you over time rather than hinging on one or two well chosen moments. Even rarer still is the instrumental album without any filler. ‘Elaenia’ is one such album and it is a joy from start to finish.
Before hearing ‘Elaenia’, I learned that Sam Shepherd, who goes by the name Floating Points, has a PhD in neuroscience and is obsessed with Talk Talk’s remarkable final album ‘Laughing Stock’, including a particular emphasis on how the instruments were recorded. While plenty seem keen to major on the first detail, with tenuous analogies and barely plausible parallels drawn at will, I was far more excited by the second. Listen to the drum sound on ‘Ascension Day’ on that 1991 release and notice how incredibly present it feels in the room. For Shepherd, that was a musical lesson and when you hear the majority of the beats on ‘Elaenia’ it’s possible to note the comparison. Played on a kit rather than built on a laptop, the percussion on this wonderful record is one of many highlights. Take ‘Silhouettes (I, II & III)’ as an example. Emerging out of a digital pulse, the drums are up in the mix, skittering and rushing while the warm Fender Rhodes electric piano gathers furious momentum. When it eases into its slower, jazzier middle section and the strings emerge, it’s actually quite moving. The constituent parts are then meddled with in its final passage and it slowly unravels, depositing you gently at its conclusion. It’s a remarkable piece of music and central to this record’s appeal.
‘Argenté’ will play well with fans of Nils Frahm’s ‘Spaces’, occupying similarly open territory. ‘Peroration Six’ concludes proceedings and it’s the most ferocious piece here. It starts in similarly delicate fashion to a number of the other tracks but as the drums appear things start to mutate, with squally guitar sounds, brooding synths and an almost oppressive presentation. By its half way point it seems to be at full stretch but the drums then explode, the strings enter the fray and the whole thing lays siege to your mind. I played it half a dozen times in a row the first time I listened to the record and even then I could barely figure it out. But I suspect that’s partly the point because, just as you’re preparing yourself for a shattering conclusion it just drops out, a bar or two too soon. I still don’t claim to understand it but it is a fittingly bold way to close an album that occupies its own space with measured confidence. An intense, enigmatic listen, ‘Elaenia’ is one to play loud.