Botany Proves Electronic Music Doesn’t Have to Be Mechanized on Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw

by Nick Hanover


Earlier this week, professional grumpy person Steve Albini made the clickbait news circuit with a “brutal” takedown of electronic music culture that was reconfigured by its recipient, Powell, into a billboard campaign. I admire and respect Albini’s rightfully legendary production and musical skills but like so many other statements by ’80s hardcore vets, Albini’s letter reeked of rockist entitlement and not-so-subtle doses of homophobia. So props to the targeted artist Powell for turning that rank shit into gold and reversing the narrative, getting a laugh and a viral PR campaign out of misplaced hate and pomposity. The real punchline of the joke of all this is that the track Powell was asking for Albini to give a sample clearance to is a blatant spiritual successor not only to Albini’s own Big Black-era classics but also the “authentic” electronic acts Albini claims to only be interested in. Or to extend that further, the music electronic artists are making today is more inventive and spirited than both the bulk of what Albini is currently producing and what he thinks current electronic music is. While Albini is bemoaning the “mechanized” electronic scene that he believes makes up the status quo, the real world is experiencing a renaissance, as electronic acts operate with more organic songcraft than their homogenized indie peers. And it’s not just noisey acts like Powell that do this, but poppier beatsmiths like Austin’s own Botany.

As far as arguments against mechanized electronic music go, it’s hard to think of a better example than Botany’s new LP Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw. Over the course of a dozen tracks, Botany mixes it up with eccentric collaborators like Milo and Matthewdavid, constructing lush soundscapes full of novel textures and unexpected rhythms to soundtrack their playful deliveries. Dimming Awe is an album of possibility, a collection of songs that share sonic adventurousness but are otherwise wildly different. Botany and his collaborators are well aware of the prior golden ages that allowed for Dimming Awe to be born, but they aren’t beholden to it– the most nostalgic track on the album is titled “Au Revoir” for a reason, Milo’s lyrics rattling off hip hop memories that he is deliberately breaking from, respectful of what came before but not anchored by it.

More frequently, Dimming Awe takes twisty detours away from the expected sonic landmarks. “Jotu” may begin with a big distorted beat but it swiftly evolves into something more melodic, gorgeous, swaying keyboards tangoing with woodland percussion. “Raw Light Overture” is crisper, its beat and synths cleaner in their presentation, but it too invokes the forest, synth voices calling out like unseen creatures, the drums heavily reverberated, piling on top of themselves as belltones cut through the swirling textures. A sense of play is audible in every track but so too is unspoken emotion, ranging from longing to curiosity to hopefulness.

The album’s midpoint, “Glow Up,” serves as a bridge of all these different strands, Matthewdavid’s vocals providing a natural alternative to the robotic synth voices Botany uses elsewhere to construct walls of sound. Matthewdavid’s voice has an otherworldly quality even before Botany adapts it to his production, cheerfully high but also airy and light. That timbre allows the synthetic woodwind instruments Botany drops into the mix to stand out all the more, creating an intriguing dichotomy between the child-like wonder of the instruments at play and the lyrics’ focus on the struggles of growing up.

Ultimately Dimming Awe, the Light is Raw encourages a different kind of growing up by broadening musical horizons and adjusting expectations of what genres can be. The old guard that Albini represents might be convinced that the scene Botany calls home is only capable of producing mechanized pop but the evidence doesn’t really support that. With entitled rage being Albini’s stock in trade, it’s unlikely that even a work as charming and gorgeous as Dimming Awe can win him over, but maybe there’s hope for other indie rock lifers.

Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover