Spencer Stephenson, the man behind Botany, is obviously a musician with ideas – one only has to read the artist’s essay-like descriptions of his own music to get a feel for the kind of braininess that goes into his songs. Those ideas are what tie together Stephenson’s eclectic ambient, psychedelic, free jazz/hip-hop sound and manage to make it work. His latest release, Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw, is scattered and vague, but somehow it all seems to make sense.
Tracks on this album blur into one another in a way that seems not entirely intentional, giving it an improvisational feel that indicates Stephenson’s jazz influences. “Raw Light Overture” is driven by layers repeating samples and counterpointing high/low vocals that form something halfway between a guided meditation and a dance track. This blends into the jazzy, free-form hip-hop of “Au Revoir” and the meandering ambient space-out of “Birthjays.” While there’s some thread stitching all these diverse sounds and tones together, it’s not anything as obvious as melodic keys or beat matching.
For the most part, Dimming Awe… stays relatively brief, with most tracks only lingering for two or three minutes before burning out or evolving into something new, and that brevity is much appreciated. It avoids becoming boring or overly self-indulgent by limiting the time spent on any given sound, melody, or rhythm. “Bad CGI” stands out as one of the album’s longer tracks, but this is mostly due to its house-inspired rhythm and song structure. Much of the album simply doesn’t have that kind of structure, and so there’s no reason for it to last any longer than it does.
With its wide-ranging sound palette and creative use of sampling, Dimming Awe… packs a lot of music into its relatively short run-time. It’s so diverse that it’s almost more like a radio station than an album, but it still manages to remain cohesive. Stephenson has a kind of gravitational pull on his music, such that it can wander into strange new territory without ever falling out of orbit, slightly out of reach but always in view.