Last fall, Sam Shepherd, better known as Floating Points, released the exceptional Elaenia to widespread acclaim. The album was a masterwork of jazz-influenced electronics, with Shepherd utilizing live instrumentation to craft intricate, free-flowing suites. After years of EPs and singles that found him exploring different elements of downtempo and techno, Elaenia was the sound of Shepherd pushing his boundaries and finding his voice. Anchored by complex arrangements, the songs led Shepherd to alter his live setup to include a full band in order to accommodate this new style. He began exploring this further by dabbling in winding jam sessions, and borne out of those rehearsals came the 18-minute “Kuiper”, which serves as the first side of a 32-minute, two-song EP of the same name.
Often, when an artist releases a new EP just nine months after a breakthrough album, it’s an attempt to capitalize on hype by repackaging B-sides or live sessions to create anticipation before going out on tour. Instead, Kuiper is a fully-fledged out release as involving as Elaenia, if not more complex. The EP stands out as two distinct pieces, wildly different yet harmonious in their contrasts. Of the two songs, the title track is the clear highlight, what could have been a throwaway experiment turned into a rapturous odyssey.
The journey begins with a sparse beat, full of blips that pop in sporadically before a driving bass line picks up steam. By the six-minute mark, the tension ratchets up into an anxious groove before reaching a heightened cacophony. The frenetic energy persists up through the 11-minute mark before everything fades to a simmer in a deft slight of hand. The music crashes back in with post-rock catharsis, particularly in the Shepherd use of dynamics. By the time the song reaches its finale, it pivots sharply towards jazz with hypnotic, slowed guitars and strings that blend downtempo with orchestration in a way that wouldn’t feel out of place soundtracking a James Bond film.
From there, the EP moves into “For Marmish Part II”, a companion piece to the penultimate track on Elaenia. “Part II” is the more restrained of the two songs here, a winding lullaby invoking elements of trance. Not stagnant enough to be full ambience, the song builds forward on its own momentum, low-key and dreamy. It’s a lovely dénouement to become lost in, not necessarily meandering or aimless but also devoid of the anxiety that informs the A-side. Through its antithetical nature, “Part II” is a sublime companion, the relaxing comedown after the first half’s expansive splendor.
For an artist primarily known as a DJ throughout his early career, this EP represents a culmination of his evolution into a composer and bandleader. His songs move organically, blossoming into full psychedelia, resembling what it would sound like if TKOL-era Radiohead had extended their songs into 20-minute jams. Kuiper is a cohesive work that captures Shepherd exhibiting a full command of his prowess. Musically, it’s miles away from the computerized bliss of Aphex Twin or the distorted bleakness of Burial, but Kuiper is similar to how both of those artists have been focusing on EPs filled with longer suites in recent years.
Kuiper shows Shepherd as an artist still exploring his craft, feeling his way through new surroundings. Though his approach is methodical and workmanlike, he still manages to weave together explosive, transcendent moments throughout. If this is the result of Shepherd growing comfortable with a live band, it will be astounding to see what a greater degree of experience and familiarity will lead to from here.
Essential Tracks: “Kuiper”, “For Marmish Part II”