Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points first appeared around the turn of the decade with a string of singles that introduced him as one of the most talented crop of tech-house producers in the land, which was furthered by his mind-numbing abilities behind the decks. It took him almost half a decade before he finally released his debut LP, Elaenia, and when it did come it was something of a surprise, as it largely swerved away from the dancefloor and into more cerebral spaces. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise; Shepherd has a PhD in neuroscience after all. The ensuing tour with a full string ensemble, and 2017’s Reflections – Mojave Desert mini-album further broadened his musical horizons, and the possibilities of where he might go next seemed infinite.

Cut to June this year and Floating Points released ‘LesAlpx’, the first new music from the man in a couple of years, and the most unabashedly dancefloor-ready track he had released for quite some time. It seemed a suggestion that he might be returning to his roots for his next full-length, but the final product once again proves that Shepherd can never be anticipated.

‘LesAlpx’ now sits as the pulsating centrepiece of his second full length, Crush, but rather than inform the rest of the record, it’s more or less the only time when Shepherd’s techno tendencies are pushed fully out into the open. It seems like Crush builds up to, and drifts back down from, the peak of ‘LesAlpx’, and either side we’re treated to explorations of idiosyncratic sonic dimensions.

It’s not as if there aren’t other moments on Crush when it seems like it’s going to fall into deliciously thumping stride, but whenever that moment seems four beats away Shepherd makes a hairpin diversion. ‘Last Bloom’ is the most obviously dance-y in the album’s first segment, but withholds the thudding undercurrent you expect to kick in at any moment. Instead it wind its way through crystalline melodies, the skeletal beat ebbing and flowing beneath it, and the effect is like watching the titular bloom in breathtaking time-lapse.

‘Anasickmodular’ again sets out as if it’s aiming at the listener’s hips with an effervescent drum pattern, but every time it seems to be gaining traction Shepherd pulls the rug out and resets, repeating until the drum machine is just a delightfully spluttering gargle. Following that melt down, Shepherd catches his breath with ‘Requiem For CS70 and Strings’, which does exactly what it says on the tin, but is more exquisitely gorgeous than its prosaic title suggests. ‘Karakul’ follows in similarly antigravitational style, but serves as little more than an extended introduction to the mountainous ‘LesAlpx’.

Once that techno track is out of his system, Shepherd welcomes us to the dark side of Crush . It begins with ‘Bias’, which is full of aural streamers lighting up the sky while arpeggios softly burble beneath, before a rattling beat comes out of the ether to twist the track into a whipped-smooth take on drum’n’bass. ‘Environments’ similarly starts from a moody synth swoon and then gradually builds into emaciated acid techno.

In both of these cases people are more than likely to reach for the Aphex Twin comparison. While not completely inaccurate, the reason that the Warp god comes to mind is not that Floating Points' productions sound like him as much as the fact that there simply aren’t many producers who can stack this many layers of completely unpredictable ideas on top of each other and make it work.

Where Shepherd differs from Richard D. James is in his more unashamed courting of pure beauty in his songs, often giving plenty of space to his synth to carry lofty melodies across busy undercurrents, or just letting the delicacy speak for itself. The couplet of ‘Birth’ and ‘Sea-Watch’ show both the pitfalls and excellence that come from allowing the grandeur stand on its own. ‘Birth’ features plenty of noodling melodicism, but comes across like a damp squib of improvisation. However ‘Sea-Watch’ is a synthesizer sonata with wondrous string additions that positively glows with moon-dappled splendour.

Following the velveteen lull of those two tracks, Floating Points picks things up again with the two-part finale ‘Apoptose’, where he again proves that he can not only expand our mind, but also our vocabulary, as he did with Elaenia closer ‘Peroration Six’. Beginning again from a place of restraint, soft drum patterns swirling in a rich syrup of notes, he starts to lift ‘Apoptose, Pt. 1’ up into another hyper-speed electronic wonder. As we segue into ‘Apoptose, Pt. 2’ a bubbling undercurrent starts to us feel as though we’re floating back towards the flashing lights of the dancefloor – but just when you think a rhythm is going to take hold, the drum machine chokes, stumbles and finally dies, ending the album abruptly. It’s as though the rigours of bending to Shepherd’s singular vision has finally caught up with it.

Crush is, once again, an experience more than an album. Shepherd has the credentials to say that he is an expert in knowing how to precisely tickle the mind and the body, but here he is mostly interested in the former. The 45 minutes of his new record are a textural deep-dive into the patterns and pleasures of the psyche, and it is both fascinating and fascinated in its results. It’s not unlikely that on initial ventures you’ll get lost in the labyrinthine work, but in the more-than-safe hands of Sam Shepherd, you’ll soon be swept up once more in the ethereal and expansive tide of Crush.