Sam Shepherd – aka Floating Points – prefaced this new release with a film in which he discusses how this entire collection of tracks was recorded in the eponymous Mojave Desert. While already known for his experimentation, this new natural setting is clearly a further step in his inventive mindset, with the series of ambient suites here only the start of a whole Reflections series. While clearly not released as a sequel to his debut album Elaenia, the quality of Floating Points’ previous output plus the radical methods of recording mean this new project arrives with considerable expectations on its shoulders.
Opening track ‘Mojave Desert’ sounds like its being beamed from deep space, with ambient synthetic sweeps against dissonant mechanical shifting noises, not allowing the listener to settle for a moment. Its brief run time is succeeded by ‘Silurian Blue,’ which begins with some gorgeous keyboards accentuated by a lightly plucked electric guitar and mild horn instrumentation fluttering in the background. Its a staggeringly gorgeous piece of music that when the drums kick in slowly ascends into an almost post-rock style symphony, not too dissimilar from something you’d hear on an Explosions in the Sky record. There are elements of free form jazz thrown in too with the horns and the lack of structure, and how Floating Points manages to cohesively accommodate all these disparate styles is baffling.
‘Kites’ was recorded walking through a valley with a directional microphone, and is more an experimental interlude than an actual song, pitch-shifting a variety of synthetic arpeggios that become gradually more erratic and build into the 12-minute highlight of the whole project ‘Kelso Dunes.’ The synthetic embellishments from the previous track are slowly overtaken by a driving, Krautrockian drumbeat with stabbing guitars rumbling underneath. The whole song builds and builds until its almost unbearable and then suddenly drops out into silence. Floating Points often explores the place that open space has in music, and the instrumentation slowly rising out of the quiet infuses the song with a grandiose, epic scale. The album rounds off with the curio ‘Lucerne Valley,’ nothing but a twinkling keyboard and some bass notes that coalesce for the 3 minute run time before evaporating into nothingness.
While the project doesn’t really have any flaws, it’s a little too lightweight and experimental to be regarded as a great album. It sits between the statuses of LP and EP and the interludes occasionally appear to prioritise avant-garde techniques over actual musicianship. Yet the lengthier tracks are genuinely astonishing in places and Reflections – Mojave Desert does reinforce the notion that Floating Points is one of the most unorthodox and innovative composers working in electronic music today.