If Reflections – Mojave Desert proves anything, it’s that Floating Points 2017 is essentially an ongoing conversation between two different musical beasts who may share DNA and musical influences, but who end up in very different places.
Floating Points 1 is Sam Shepherd, the electronic-music producer and DJ responsible for early Floating Points classics like Nuits Sonores and Sparkling Controversy and who is still capable of going back to back-to-back with Caribou/Daphni and Four Tet on marathon DJ excursions.
Floating Points 2 is a group of musicians that Shepherd put together to promote his excellent 2015 album Elaenia. It is this group that made Reflections – Mojave Desert, an album that has its origins in recordings made last year when Floating Points traveled to the Mojave Desert to rehearse in between U.S. tours. Struck by the desert’s unique ambience, the band recorded a soundtrack that would reflect their arid, alien surroundings and also accompany a short film made with director Anna Diaz Ortuño.
Reflections, then, is very much a band record, based around the two lengthy central tracks on Silurian Blue and Kelso Dunes. The former is a sparse, atmospheric guitar and synth number that brings to mind emotionally charged, classically expansive Pink Floyd numbers like “The Great Gig in the Sky” or the soft-focus, sun-blushed ecstasy of Slowdive’s “Souvlaki Space Station”; the latter is 13 minutes of nervous guitar propulsion that rides the kind of militant Krautrock beat that NEU! or CAN made their own. Both, however, are burned through with a scorching ambience that suggests the desert-noir stylings of Calexico or John Phillips’ soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Around these central poles lie three songs that set the album’s atmosphere. Opener “Mojave Desert” is pure ambience, a soundscape that combines the noise of the wind and the rustling of bushes with woozy synth chords, like Brian Eno hooking up with Ennio Morricone on the soundtrack to an apocalyptic Western. Album closer “Lucerne Valley,” meanwhile, is three and a half minutes of beat-free melodic noodling that gently guides the listener back to real life after their dreamy desert excursion.
For all that it is a band record, Reflections isn’t entirely without electronics. The brilliant “Kites” sees Shepherd take a synth loop for a walk; as a swinging super-directional microphone captures the valley’s natural reverb, the loop gradually increases in speed, ending up as a wonderfully simple, atmospheric piece of electronics that recalls early Tangerine Dream.
Reflections – Mojave Desert should not be confused for a formal follow up to Elaenia, an album that topped many end-of-year lists in 2015. It’s more jammy, less sculpted, more concerned with atmospherics and ambience than melodies, and you can feel the warm desert grit up your nostrils throughout. But as an example of what Floating Points the band can do with the bit between their teeth and an environment to inspire them, this album is hugely worthwhile.