Stepping outside the house
Sam Shepherd is best known for immaculately produced, oceans-deep house music, DJ sets that run the gamut from soul, disco and Latin rarities to slamming house tracks and – most recently – his close relationship with both Four Tet and Caribou. He may still be in his 20s, but the Manchester-born producer’s tracks Vacuum Boogie, Sparkling Controversy
and Nuits Sonores stand tall alongside the work of Theo Parrish, Moodymann or any other American deep house legend you care to name. He has little to prove on that front.
Perhaps that’s why his first full-length album is such a departure. He’s not a dance music lifer – his background is in classical composition and jazz piano – and Elaenia is not your average dance music LP. The format has given him the chance to stretch himself musically and as a result these seven tracks, recorded with a live band, have more in common with Portico, Polar Bear or classical minimalists like Steve Reich than his house peers.
Much of the record is beatless – the opening Nespole unfurls deliciously and derives its undeniable forward momentum from a series of complementary synth and organ lines. Later, Shepherd does something similar on the gauzy Thin Air, this time using no more than ticking hi-hats and percussive synths for propulsion. While the record meanders a little around the midway point, this is head music: the aquatic grooves and gorgeous sonics will pull you under before you’ve even realised.
The real highlights come with the sparing use of a jazz drummer, particularly the stunning Silhouettes – a cosmic odyssey that ranks with his best work – and the closing Peroration Six. It’s the darkest, most unsettling moment on the whole record, where for the only time Shepherd removes the shackles from himself and his accompanists and embraces the thrilling chaos of a live band. It’s not dance music, but it’s very special indeed. floatingpoints.co.uk