Sam Shepherd is a pretty smart guy. That comes with the territory when you have a Ph.D. in neuroscience, which the producer and songwriter behind Floating Points does. The music he makes as Floating Points isn’t so complicated or hard to understand if you don’t have similar credentials, and in fact Shepherd has even said as much: “You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to make music like this,” he said in an Irish Times interview, “but it helps.” He’s joking (at least a little bit, I’d assume), but there’s a lot that happens in Floating Points’ music. In “Silhouettes (I, II, III)” from last year’s Elaenia, for instance, Shepherd builds a bridge between jazz fusion and the art rock of a band like Radiohead, creating a spacious and progressive composition that comprises a broad journey in 10 minutes, foreign and familiar in equal measure. It feels like an album’s worth of ideas and emotion in one track. Maybe you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to create something of that caliber, but it takes a certain something that very few artists have.
Kuiper, Floating Points’ new EP, isn’t a recording on the scale of Elaenia in terms of length or number of tracks. Yet as a two-track EP that extends beyond 30 minutes, it feels at times like an even grander accomplishment. That’s almost redundant to say with two sprawling compositions that run 18 and 14 minutes, respectively, but Shepherd’s approach on each one is markedly different, exploring a richly textured and swelling krautrock-inspired electronic symphony in one while exploring minimalist ambience in the other.
The title track is the set’s real showpiece, pursuing one of the darkest and hardest grooves that Shepherd has crafted throughout his discography to date. It takes a while to get off the ground, emerging from a series of wheezes, bleeps and bloops until finally gaining momentum after two minutes and sputtering its way toward cosmic Tangerine Dream- and Neu!-inspired transcendence. It’s the kind of thing you could imagine sounding even more impressive live, and considering Shepherd is touring with a live band, it’s likely even bigger than imagined. And that says a lot; here it swells and throbs and pulses and oozes toward an ever out-of-reach climax. The irony is that it feels like all climax, the sheer expanse of it an utter thrill as it unfolds.
Kuiper‘s other half (comprising a little less than 50 percent of its running time) is “For Marmish Part II,” a much sparser, more meditative track. A recurrent loop of Rhodes groove remains a constant throughout the track, eventually subtly incorporating in other elements such as horns and percussive elements. It’s an extended period of reflection and rest after the EP’s more thrilling adventure, though it’s no less breathtaking. Taken together, they represent Floating Points at its most extreme poles: intensely driving art fusion and gently expansive atmosphere. Either direction is a long distance from where Shepherd began, in a more conventional beat-driven realm of electronic music, showing an impressive amount of growth and, in addition to a deeper understanding of complex networks, imagination beyond his more accessible beginnings. The only limit is what’s beyond the horizon.