Under the Botany moniker, Spencer Stephenson creates rich psychological and emotional experiences through audio. His music is a thoughtful attempt to convey the non-verbal through his particular mental prism, where sounds have potent symbolism in ways that are all but forgotten in the hermetic modern world. He explains, “Sounds have archetypal connections to things in nature the same way visual symbols do. Low-end might be associated with thunder, or the sound of a mother's heartbeat as heard from inside the womb, or an approaching stampede, or earthquake. Low-end generally indicates something bigger and more powerful than you. Treble sounds indicate something deadly rattling through foliage or something vital like water flowing close by. Reverberation has a connection to the holy and transcendent, it implies spatial largeness. It’s fun to hear these symbols coming out of ear-buds in a world where they aren’t useful on a daily basis, but are still so subconsciously powerful.” Though Stephenson sees these constituent signifiers, he has a holistic vision of music “…functioning as a single pulsating thing, instead of a band with distinct parts,” which parallels his idea of the universe as an ever emergent, single conscious entity-- a concept he finds spiritually gratifying, and one that’s pervasive in his music.
Growing up in musical household in rural North Texas, Stephenson spent his childhood exploring the woods around his home, playing drums in the basement, tinkering with borrowed guitar pedals and drum machines, and digesting hand-me-down jazz, hip-hop, and electronic records. When he was 15, he got his hands on a CD-R of pirated recording software, started creating his own music, and soon became enamored with Four Tet, Stars of the Lid, Madlib, and Dilla. In the late-teen years that followed, he went through a heavy period of discovery with Psychedelic rock, Krautrock, and Brit-folk. “I started imitating a lot of those forms in my own music, sampling them sometimes, recording from scratch sometimes, but really just trying to bridge a gap between those worlds and sample-based hip hop, and I’m still trying.”
In 2008 he started sharing his efforts via the internet, and 2010 saw his first official release, the dream-pop flavored EP Feeling Today. After the death of his mother, an arrest for a public altercation, increasing writer’s block, and running out of money, in 2012 he relocated to a farm outside of Austin, TX, where he worked and started writing what would become his debut full-length Lava Diviner (Truestory). Fader called it “…badass…a pretty epic journey all around,” while Dazed said it was “…fluid in its ability to move between the melancholic, the uplifting and the ethereal.” The album was conceived as the soundtrack to a movie that existed only in his head, and though it was praised by most who heard it, it didn't have the widespread impact it deserved.
On his latest effort Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw, the 27-year-old producer and composer continues dissolving the borders between his disparate-yet-beloved psych, hip hop, and ambient influences. Album standout “Au Revoir,” is a shimmering piece of sampler-psychedelia that bolsters verses by rapper Milo, and gracefully leads into the drum-less hum and crackle of “Birthjays”. Matthewdavid—the high-priest of ambient bass himself—lends a rare vocal feature to the uplifting burner “Glow-up” while the electro-inspired “Bad CGI” stitches Bambaataa chants and sci-fi flutters to a shamanic pulse, then morphs into a late-night opiated channel-surfing montage, and the seams rarely appear.
Unlike Lava Diviner, which peaked and valley-ed through a narrative arc, Dimming Awe focuses on the artist's ever-unfolding, present state of mind. As a former jazz student, spiritual/free jazz philosophy regarding what he calls “emergent” music has increasingly become a guiding light when he creates. “The more emergent I let my music be when I'm making it, the more I like the result, it feels like a truer reflection. I feel like I am getting closer to doing that with computer-made music,” he says. “This album is a document of what I do, not a statement in any explicit way. I feel like I'm moving closer to a jazz underpinning that I've always felt, philosophically more than aesthetically…making music feels more like exhaling as I grow older.”
While his sounds intersect with the cascading, scattered percussiveness of West Coast beatmakers such as Flying Lotus, there's a warmer timbre and wider scope to Lava Diviner (Truestory), which is fluid in its ability to move between the melancholic, the uplifting and the ethereal without notice.
…badass…a pretty epic journey all around.
…deliriously fun collection of warm, imaginative hip hop-inflected beats full to the brim with lovingly interwoven field recordings and samples…there's never a moment's peace on this densely layered, restlessly imaginative record that we simply can't stop spinning.
I love the way the elements here (music box tinkles, ghostly samples, rhythmic detritus) combine into something hypnotic and balmy. All the pieces cling to each other blissfully..
…alternatingly danceable and meditative psychedelia…carefully constructed and satisfying…
...ominous, warm and absolutely thunderous...glorious synthesis of dusty hip-hop vibes and cosmic free jazz spirit.
…moody and sumptuous…