Crush is yet another triumph for Floating Points.
Sam Shepherd’s first two LPs as Floating Points deviated sharply from the more dance-oriented singles and EPs with which he first made his name. Elaenia and Reflections – Mojave Desert both stretched into experimental, exploratory realms that emphasized silence as much as synths. At times, and particularly on the latter release, Shepherd drifted closer to the more compositionally minded terrain of post-rock than the four-on-the-floor rhythms of club music, even of a variety as odd as his. Crush represents something of a return to the earlier focus of Floating Points, albeit filtered through the techniques that Shepherd developed for his previous LPs.
The album’s first half, featuring distinct compositions that nonetheless flow together with surprising fluidity, show off the experimental side that Shepherd has honed for years. “Falaise” opens with a shimmering, stuttering moan that bleeds between accompanying, mournful strings. The track manages to recalibrate the nervy oscillations of Throbbing Gristle into something elegiac instead of ominous, and its eventual growth into a fully orchestral offering with flutes and strings darting as the electronics fall to the background to provide a faint but roiling churn of noise manages to display all of Shepherd’s honed capacity for leftfield arrangement in a track that remains fundamentally blissful. “Last Bloom,” with its staccato breaks, strips away the opener’s softer side to emphasize the propulsive choppiness while “Anasickmodular” morphs into ‘90s house, all shaking percussion and steadily cresting analog synth euphoria that recapitulates the divergent moods of the preceding tracks into a cohesive whole.
The linked ambience of “Requiem for CS70 and Strings” and “Karakul” brings this opening stretch to a close. The former sounds exactly as the title would suggest, a quiet and somber blend of synthesizer and strings that sounds like an idle improvisation transcribed into formal composition, while the latter complicates the spacious sound with blurting shrieks of synths, groaning bass notes and warbling sci-fi tones. The paired tracks drift away from the beats of the preceding tracks but summarize their generally wandering tones, and for a moment the album sounds poised to continue into Floating Points’ contemporary sound. Then, the first side concludes with “LesAlpx,” one of the hardest floor bangers that Shepherd has ever composed, and suddenly the album’s direction shifts. An even purer slice of throwback house than “Last Bloom,” the track blends Blade Runner synth moans over a clanging 4/4 beat and rubbery basslines. The foregrounded beat anchors the minor divertissements that otherwise complicate the track, making it as straightforward as it is unpredictable.
“LesAlpx” signals a shift that dominates the album’s second side, one in which Shepherd toys with various classic electronic genres and references. “Bias” plays around with 1970s proto-ambient in its high, brittle howls of analog synthesizer while laying twitchy, tense percussion underneath that gradually morphs into drum ‘n’ bass, the drums eventually swallowing the chill vibes and repurposing them as nervous, brassy bleats. “Environments” could have slotted onto a mid-‘90s Aphex Twin album with none the wiser, its percussion slurring in and out of focus as it constantly flirts with regular, old-school jungle before veering off into odd directions. “Birth” doubles down on the ambient, mixing stripped-down piano with gurgles of bass noise that crash in the distant like waves.
The album comes to a close with a trio of gorgeous, protean tracks that highlight and complicate this serene energy. “Sea-Watch” twinkles like stars over the unlit expanse of the ocean until swirling New Age trills intrude about halfway and make the track even more celestial. The two-part concluding “Apoptose” returns to the antic but soothing sound of classic Aphex, inexplicably wringing ambient chill out of squelching, high-BPM percussion until the second half explodes in a frenzy of intersecting, energetic lines. Crush is yet another triumph for Floating Points, a chaotic, if fundamentally cohesive, collection of tracks that reconcile Shepherd’s ever-more-sophisticated arrangements with the bedrock of compelling dance music that launched him in the first place.