Spencer Brown manifests complexity into flow state with, ‘Stream of Consciousness’ [Review/Q&A]
Creating music with the listening beauty of mass appeal akin to a radio hit, but defying the essence of the rinse-and-repeat mentality—this is a feat Spencer Brown is privy to. In a few flashy years, the 26 year-old producer has toured with the late Avicii, debuted his first album Illusion of Perfection, risen as heavyweight label Anjuna‘s prodigy, collaborated with Above & Beyond on dance floor staple, “Long Way From Home,” exponentially grown a dedicated fanbase, and to top it off, graduated from Duke University with a distinction. As if his lengthy attainments were simply starter courses, Brown has decidedly delivered his sophomore album Stream of Consciousness less than two years after his 2018 debut LP.
As music stands in its current state, there has been an undeniable loss of the album as a body of work, complicated by the growing appeal of a cash-out, declining listener appreciation, and other factors. Brown could care less; rather, his agenda is the complete opposite; his commitment to the presentation of his art remains steadfast. While both albums boast striking standalone tracks, their true power comes in a listening experience packaged collectively in full-length. Where Stream of Consciousness diverges from its predecessor is its purposeful conception as a mix album, building upon the idea of “flow state.” In Brown’s intention for his second album, he hones the art of mixing in an execution that truly exceeds his debut.
Stream of Consciousness‘ movement from track to track contain an effortlessness that speaks to Brown’s lucid grasp on the album as as whole. The 12-track album finds ingenuity in its ability to portray multiple nuances of one central identity as opposed to conjoining separate characters. Paired with crisp production and meticulous engineering, Brown’s latest effort encompass songs as their borderlines morph into fleeting dispositions, succumbing to the mix wizard’s disintegration.
With acutely-tuned sensitivity, Brown knows that for an album to make an indelible impression on a listener, it requires patience. True enough, Stream of Consciousness grows more sublime with every listen—the tiny details become more attuned while conceptual themes bloom. Opening track, “SF to Berlin” provides the subtle building ground to introduce the “flow state” experience, intertwining Ben Böhmer‘s nostalgic touches with Brown’s melodic structures in a celestial sonic playground. The pace inches along as the mix moves along to “Love & Pain” which introduces low-end frequencies embellished by twinkling melodies. Catalyzed by snares and driving beats, the Marsh-assisted, “Pursuance” delves into deeper progressive territories, its full-bodied layers of otherworldly choirs and multi-synth lines crescendoing in-and-out of tension before evaporating into repose.
The two tracks come after serve as an interlude that give emotional lightness without loss of movement—”LA ID” takes on a downtempo appearance while Paperwhite‘s airy vocals permeate throughout, “Chance On Us.” What follows in the second half of Stream of Consciousness depict more curious undertones as Brown explores the eccentricity of percussion and craftsmanship of layers with Qrion in “Foggy August,” mystifying arpeggio progressions in “Everything’s a Cycle,” and tingling buildups reminiscent of progressive masters like Eric Prydz in “Resilience.”
Stream of Consciousness has been years in the making with Brown fruitfully gathering the pieces to complete the puzzle. His presence on each track is undeniable, yet the immaculate construction of each in its own individual qualities remains distinct. No idea, drum pattern or song anatomy read the same; meanwhile, his signature stylistic elements of progressive, techno, and trance continually interweave in dexterous ways. Unlike those who fall into their old habits of repetitive and formulaic artistry, Brown whittles away the limitations of creative walls. Uncovering evocations of wistfulness, rumination, allure, tranquility, insomnia, and more through his manifestations of “flow state,” Brown has proved once again his craft transcends an art form.
Congratulations of releasing Stream of Consciousness. What draws you towards making music that keeps listeners in a flow state?
Thank you so much! Grateful that it’s finally out. I’m obsessed with making music that’s interlocked with a specific memory or experience. When that moment in your life is forever tied with that music. I find my concentration/flow breaks when the music changes too much. I make music for myself—and flow state music is how I love to study, drive, travel, and work. I hope it resonates with you all too.
You’ve been gathering tracks for Stream of Consciousness since 2015; I’m sure you’ve been sitting on tons of unreleased material as well that may or may not ever see the light of day in the form of a completed project. What is your mindset towards this process of continuously creating?
I’m always making music; I only use my laptop. I can bring my projects anywhere I go and don’t need to rely on external equipment. Sometimes I notice certain tracks mesh with others very well…and that’s how my albums organically sprout.
What were some of the challenges you faced conceiving a mix album?
Dance music has gravitated toward blasting radio-edited singles on streaming platforms. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, it’s simply not the way I want to present my art. It’s certainly a mental challenge getting over the fact that if I play ‘the game,’ I may get more streams/popularity. But I’d rather make exactly what I want to make and have my work deeply resonate with loving fans. I’m very grateful I have a team and label who sees eye-to-eye with my vision.
You mixed Stream of Consciousness entirely on your own. How were you able to strive for perfection in revising your product repeatedly without tiring out and keeping a pair of fresh eyes?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tire out. I did. In the final few months of mixing my album, I felt as though I couldn’t be myself until the album was done. The 20 times I thought the album was done, I’d make some major change that would require a ton of extra work. I was starting to lose my mind and was becoming moderately depressed. Thankfully once I finished the final product, the stressed-and-depressed headspace faded rather quickly.
Were there any technical changes you made going into the studio for the mix album as opposed to Illusion of Perfection?
Definitely. I learn something new every day. My production/mixing skills have matured since I wrote Illusion of Perfection, so mixing took significantly longer on Stream of Consciousness. I’m hyper-focused on every little detail.
Do you have any favorite tracks off the mix album and why?
Each track serves a purpose in my sets and within the album, so I can’t really choose a favorite. But I am very pleased with how it came out; I feel as though I created the vision in my head.
You were joined by a few Anjuna label mates and previous Illusion of Perfection collaborators on the new album as well. Can you tell me about your relationship with any of them and the collaborative process that goes on?
Most of the collaborations I’ve done in my career are simply hanging out with friends in the studio. We don’t really attempt to make ‘a record’ — we are merely messing around. All the collaborations came about that way except “Pursuance” with Marsh. For that track, Marsh sent me over a little idea he made via email, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I worked on it in pure flow state for 4 hours…and the track was finished.
How much of your passion for the art of DJing influence your production craft?
They fuel each other. I create pieces in the studio that I want to play in my DJ sets. Likewise, I find missing pieces in sets while DJing that I need to create in the studio. I don’t plan sets and always read the room—that’s how I learned to DJ almost 15 years ago at little 8th-grade birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. I love it this way, but it requires a huge repertoire of music and an ear for what is missing in the record bag (and how to create it!).
This tour will be the biggest one of your career yet. What are you looking forward to?
I’m grateful to share my work with so many amazing people around the world. Language, culture, beliefs, sexuality… labels do not matter on the dancefloor. I love this environment. Music and shows have healed me beyond any words, so I hope to do the same with all the loving fans.
As an openly LBGT individual, what was your journey embracing that part of your identity and how has that found a place in your development as an artist?
I did not realize I was gay until I was 21 (I am 26 now). Before then, I was an anxious and depressed mess. I didn’t know who I was personally or musically. Through discovering myself personally, my life has gotten much better; through my self-growth came an understanding of who I am as an artist too. If you don’t know yourself, how are you supposed to create music from your heart?
Who and what are some of the major influences for your music currently?
Guy J is my favorite artist. I’ve been a fan since 2012 or 2013, but my love for his music has grown over the years. I’ve seen him live many times and had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times. He is such a friendly guy, and I’m always low-key fanboying inside when we say hello.
Outside of Guy J, I love Hernan Cattaneo, Tame Impala, Sasha and Digweed. I’ve been extremely inspired by old Sasha and Digweed mix albums that were popular long before I was into dance music (and before I was born). I find some of the purest inspiration can be found by looking long in the past.
Any last words?
Always do you. F*** anyone who tells you otherwise.