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For Austin-based producer Spencer Stephenson (aka Botany), music making is more than just an artistic form of expression, it's also a spiritual and philosophical experience. "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." He states in the press-release for his new album, Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw. But he has never allowed his academic leanings to overshadow the most important element of his music: the human side.

Take for example his 2013 debut Lava Diviner (Truestory). Originally conceived as the soundtrack to an imagined sci-fi film, the album took on a personal meaning, reflecting his often melancholic state of mind due to a number of personal setbacks he was experiencing at the time. Two years later he's returned with another set of songs just as personal and introspective as the last. On Dimming Awe, he continues to synthesize strands of psych, hip-hop, electro and pop into his moody soundscapes, but, here, Stephenson further dissolves the borders between those disparate styles, pushing his sound further into the realm late-night opiated channel surfing music.

The lack of an overreaching narrative leaves the music untethered and free to explore, and without any kind of personal turmoil looming overhead, the atmosphere takes on a more mellow vibe. 'All is Rite', 'Birthjays', and 'Raw Light Overture' represent some of the most serene moments to be found here, reflecting a growing sense of spirituality and straying further into transcendental spaces while narrowly sidestepping meditational schmaltz. The almost-chill-wave Matthewdavid featured 'Glow Up' meanwhile amounts to possibly the most blissful thing Stephenson has turned out yet. Propelled by a muted kick and fleshed out with ghostly harmonies, drifting vocal samples, swirling synth patterns, and brittle clapping percussion, 'Bad CGI' stands as one of the darker numbers here, but in a "taking a late night drive to the middle of nowhere" sense rather than an emotional one.

Though a handful of guest vocalists show up on Dimming Awe, this marks Stephenson's first proper collaboration with a rapper, as Chicago rapper Milo takes the lead on both 'Au Revoir' and 'No Translator' - his fluid and stream-of-consciousness flow fitting especially perfectly with the former's psychedelic ambiance. The only major issue is that curiously enough, even the better songs never quite seep into your subconscious they way some of Lava's standout moments did, nor do they really seem to develop beyond being sketches of potentially good ideas. Instead, they drift idly before quietly dissipating into the atmosphere.

A lot of that has to do with Stephenson scaling back his otherwise panoramic view slightly and stripping away a few layers in the process. It works to his advantage in making the album a little more accessible, but the accessibility often comes at the expense of the kind of immersive qualities needed for these songs to make a proper impression. It's to his credit though that he's willing to take risks and experiment with his music and allow it to continually evolve regardless of the outcome, rather than simply relying on the same predictable formula every time.

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