Written for NOISE CANNON.
Sam Shepherd is one very busy man, having been entangled in a career of DJ-ing, and pursuing a PhD in neuroscience. Perhaps there is a worry to some when music and science collide. It suggests simplification, and the image of a Dr Shepherd conducting his experiments in a perfectly sterile sonic laboratory, resulting in repetition and nothingness. Yet listeners and musicians are presented with an entirely new canvas for intrigue and discovery, that no matter what happens, it is functional and alive. This is a five-year project that in spite of its intricacies sounds improvisational and dare it be said, organic.
That isolated image makes it seem timeless. It is unjust to call it the sound of 2015, a throwback to the 1990s chill-out and glitch, or use an inevitable tongue-in-cheek comparison to freeform jazz from the 25th Century (especially when tracks like ‘Nespole’ features an almost stereotypical jazzy saxophone throughout). Therefore, this might just be electronic music at its more intriguing and exciting, for more than not being able to assign it to a genre. In short, Elaenia is an intriguing enough album that it is just asking to be overanalyzed. Never has there been a more infuriating album to discuss and praise, yet resist using the term ‘intelligent dance music’.
Title track ‘Elaenia’ is a long ambient, glitchy and noisy track, as the titular bird dreamily takes flight. Sections that seem acoustic (albeit distorted) give it warmth, and the subtle distraction of electronics gives it a curious, noticeable and immersive life. This is taken to new levels with ‘Thin Air’, with a rapid snare-like white noise ticking throughout, against swelling, garbled piano and marimbas – unusually hypnotic and calming for something so percussive.
More progressive and energetic tracks function similarly. The ten-minute ‘Silhouettes’, is the sound of a soft jazz quartet politely bickering with shining metallic synth that playfully engulfs the beat. However, by closer ‘Peroration Six’, things have become increasingly aggravated. As though the beat wasn’t challenging enough to follow, it disappears beneath layer after layer of instruments and electronics, until nothing but cymbal crashes are intelligible. As the listener is lost amongst the madness, there is suddenly silence. It is impossible to tell whether it was random or really was at the end of a bar.
That moment switches the experience from “what a great album”, to a jaw-dropping “what the hell did I just listen to?”. It wouldn’t come as any surprise were this Shepherd’s intention to begin with. Elaenia is an album so intricate, that one refuses to believe that there isn’t more to discover in that ear-splitting cacophony finale than can be made out – enthralling enough to outweigh the irritation that there are some things in there that nobody but the creators will ever know.