Sharing my thoughts and opinions of what was one of the most anticipated/highly-rated albums of last year ! (audio stream below)
Floating Points’s debut album, Elaenia, after listening to it multiple times, I’m really surprised I was so excited for this album before I got my hands on it. Sure it’s fantastically put together, full of great emotional moments, and actually has a lot of surprises. But make no mistake, this is an ambient record. It definitely flirts with a lot of genres though; ambient music (of course), jazz, house and techno, and even a few dabs of modern classical and post-rock influences all end up on here in one form or another. But at the end of the day, and this is without a shadow of doubt in my mind, an ambient music album. It just so happens to be a really damn good one.
As a recommendation going into listening to this album, I highly recommend you get some headphones. Given the nature of this album (you know, it being primarily an ambient album and everything), the only way to truly do the album any kind of justice is to get immersed in. Hence, headphones are an absolute must. The reason being is this album simply just SOUNDS amazing. Every track on here has so much detail, so much life and warmth; the synths, the primary instruments on here, are just so lush and warm that they just envelop you. And the live drumming, the two tracks that they are present on, are recorded so well that they sound like they are being played in the same room as you. For the sound alone, I give this record high marks.
But sound quality alone does make a great album. Thankfully the album delivers great moments in spades. The album’s opener is a deceptively simple keyboard/synth that progressively gets more complex as it goes on. It’s not the most thrilling thing in the world but it does do a good job of setting the stage for the album’s tone and most notably, the epic second track, Silhouettes. Ten minutes in length and split into three movements, this is obviously meant to be the albums centerpiece and for good reason too; this song is simply majestic! The jazzy, shuffle of the drums hold down the structure of the song as it slowly shifts in nature and tone, working its way to a beautiful crescendo of strings, keys and vocal harmonies and then going quiet again. It’s beautifully paced, absolutely gorgeous song.
After Silhouettes the album moves back pretty quickly to ambient territory. Four of the five remaining songs are pretty much percussion free. Track three, Elaenia, is similar in nature to Brian Eno’s ambient masterpiece, Music For Airports 1/1; and is probably the most gentile song on the album. Track four, Argenté is based around this beautiful ascending and descending keyboard arpeggio, with other accompanying synths swarming around it before transition into the fifth track, Thin Air, which tones down the previous songs melody and adds a skittering drum machine. The album shuffles along from there to track six, For Mamish, a jazzy, calm contemplative piece that feels as though it’s meant to calm everything down before the finale. Given the nature of the album’s final track and my personal favorite moment of the album, it totally makes sense.
Peroration Six, the albums closer, and the only other song on the album with a live drummer, is a bit similar to Silhouettes in nature, what with its quiet opening and approaching menace-like atmosphere. Yet, where as Silhouettes goes through periods of calm, Peroration Six just keeps continuing to grow wildly out of control, with everything growing increasingly louder before eventually throwing everything at you at once in a cacophony of noise. This idea is as old as music itself but the way Floating Points orchestrates the album’s closer is probably the the most genius move on the album. However, like a good movie, I don’t want to spoil how the album ends but I can tell you it will definitely divide people. In the end, I’m going to say it was a ballsy choice and I think really adds to the poignancy of the album.
As far as anything really negative to say, there’s really not much there. It must be said that it’s a slow, methodical album that requires time and patience and is really best enjoyed actively listening to it. If any of those descriptors turn you off, then I would stay away. Also, it could be argued that the album really doesn’t leave that strong impression after the first listen, given the effervescent nature of most of the album. To me, this actually works as one of the album’s strengths, as it really makes you want to go back and revisit the album over and over, in hopes that you might catch something you didn’t hear the first time (it also helps that unlike a lot of other ambient records with daunting 70+ minute run times, this album is relatively brief, clocking in at just over 40 minutes).
Aside from the fact that Floating Points’s name is on the album, a name highly revered in the house music scene for sure, the content of this album doesn’t really seem to be anything to get that excited over. And yet, I would have put this album easily within my top 5 albums of last year; it’s seriously that good. I must say, it’s been awhile since I’ve listened to something that could be considered “rewarding” and this is definitely that kind of listen. Not everyone will like this album, that’s for sure. But for the people who do, and like this kind of music, you will love every second of this album.