Earlier this year, American-bred musician Jake DeMichele announced a debut album on the way for 2022, but gave scant details about the project, leaving listeners to speculate about just what the ambient breakout artist had in store.
Fans need no longer worry, as DeMichele’s first studio album, Floating, has arrived in grand fashion.
In the hands of a lesser artist, the formal rigidity of Floating would likely become tiresome, but every one of the album’s five tracks is a testament to DeMichele’s breathtaking compositional skills. The producer builds much of the record around a theme of repetition; melodies and rhythms start off simply, and DeMichele adds layer upon layer of complexity as they progress. The album as a whole is itself a repetition of structures and forms of arrangement that shift from track to track. But, like all great songwriters, DeMichele knows how to surprise the listener — and the surprises on Floating are some of the producer’s best yet.
Take the opener, “Cloud Cover.” The song begins with sweeping, sweet syth arps the drift over a rolling drum beat as the space around them fills with harmonic textures. But as soon as this pattern is on the verge of becoming predictable, DeMichele switches gears to a lyrical, brassy melody and kinetic bassline. He then brings the song full circle by combining the two ideas into a glimmering, crystalline climax.
The songs on Floating are like expertly crafted puzzle pieces that interlock and fold into each other to form one complex, complete unit. The album as a whole fits in this analogy as well. Just as each song is a collection of parts that fold into a whole, so to is the album made of individual songs that add up to make something greater than the sum of its parts. The way the energy flows from track to track is hypnotic, and the album moves form uplifting, soaring choruses to mysterious and sombre bridges with confidence and ease. There’s a refreshing amount of dynamic variation throughout, and the melodic and harmonic movements of Floating come across like narrative.
All in all, it’s hard to say what the best thing about Floating is. Maybe it’s the funky flutes and steady shuffle of the title track, or maybe it’s the cascading keys that open up “Crisp Air.” It might be the deliciously crisp guitar tone of “Night Walk” and “Rainy Drive,” but it could also be the intertwining counterpoint of the album’s closer, “Sundown.” The sound design is beautiful, the arrangements are subtle and nuanced, and the overall effect is triumphant, even bordering on transcendent.
Suffice it to say that Floating sounds like the soundtrack to a science fiction film that we wish we could see, and DeMichele has produced one of the most entertaining albums of the year.