Botany’s Portal Orphanage (September 3, Western Vinyl) has been seamlessly sculpted from the debris of Motown soul, classical harp recordings, optimistic devotionals, and, perhaps surprisingly, country music. For twenty-five solid minutes, Spencer Stephenson’s music takes on more of a sobering hue, with some ‘resignation toward the darker promises of the future that have come true’, while still delivering a top-tier collection of samples within creative, original instrumentals.
All of Portal Orphanage’s samples were taken from his stack of 45’s – the same collection that featured in his Fourteen 45 Tails (2020). Jungle-flavoured 808s and other programmed beats sit amiably between sporadic vocals and bursts of harmonious detritus, and the whole thing works perfectly. There is a rhythm and a method within the frenzy, a solid framework hidden just underneath the surface, cleverly disguised by the varying samples sitting atop. The playful music is only allowed to enjoy itself because the more rigid beats are already in place, providing solid stepping stones for the melodies to walk and wander over.
The soulful ‘Hypernap’ samples an almost-euphoric harmony, and it feels nice over the scattershot, broken, and slower set of drums. On ‘Rare Jubilation’, Stephenson shares the tune with label-mate Joseph Shabason, who plays a dream-like, hypnotic flute. Free-flowing improvisation is another vital component to Portal Orphanage. Jazz-relaxed percussion and the glowing, transcendent sound of the harp invite the listener to recline and chill, and it seems to hold out a hand, offering a message of optimism and hope for the future. But the sound is also slowly deflating, being somewhat grounded in the murky uncertainty of a new and strange age.
As an instrumentalist, there’s no doubt that Stephenson is highly skilled, but he’s also looking to push on from his current position. Despite the lingering resignation, sparkles of light filter in. Elation, whether misplaced or unaware, is present, but the music has also been tainted by bittersweet melancholia, mourning for modern life, for what is and what will be lost; touching down and realising that the values and philosophies of love and acceptance have struggled to blossom.
Over the past couple of years, the values that were once held dear and were impressively fortified have been under attack, and some have disintegrated. Because of that, they faded away, succumbing to a new poison of hate, indifference, and insularity. But everything changes, and Portal Orphanage is a part of that process, a musical artefact tied to a specific place and time in Stephenson’s life… before things must inevitably evolve and change once again.