Spencer Brown — The Road to Equanimity (Album Review)

Justin Fleming
13 min readOct 16, 2023

It’s been five years since I reviewed Spencer Brown’s debut album “Illusion of Perfection” and so much has happened for the San-Fran resident over those years. Illusion of Perfection was a sort of lightning-in-a-bottle moment for both the growing musician and the Anjuna family at large. The mix album put together as a nice string of musical pieces that would carry the listener on a nice journey for a debut album wound up being a better representation of some of Spencer’s great strengths during his debut album tour: DJ-ing. The quality of the experience of being carried from start to finish on a musical journey sort of became his “thing” for a while after this album. The first tour featured numerous open to close and extended sets and if you were one of the lucky ones such as myself, catching an entire open to close experience with Spencer, you were probably quickly swept up in a whirlwind of wanting to see where this man’s career was about to go.

Later Spencer hit another tour with SBxID, a tour comprising of mostly extended sets and a desire to hone in on and experiment with the numerous club tracks he had yet to release (aka “ID”s). It was a great way to extend the success of his first tour and see exactly what kind of music would become the strong suit on tours and what catches all the big requests by fans. Fast forward four years and Spencer Brown has quite the record sheet: He has his own label, he’s experimented wildly with the formats of his primary genres with pandemic-designed tracks like “18 Minute Loop”, he fulfilled career dreams by releasing music on deadmau5’s “mau5trap” label, collaborated on vocal anthems with Above & Beyond, released a second album “Stream of Consciousness”, toured again and again, and as of last week, released his third album “Equanimity”.

Catching Up

I didn’t review “Stream of Consciousness” at the time because there was a pandemic on and other things were occupying my mind but also because other music was wow-ing me at the time. I did buy the album and listened to it several times over, it wasn’t bad at all. But it has become clear, even moreso now with Equanimity, that Stream of Consciousness is in many ways a sort of “realignment” for Spencer Brown after his Illusion of Perfection and ID tours. The album structurally follows suit for what’s there in Illusion of Perfection but instead focuses on current collaborations in Spencer’s wheelhouse (which is what you expect out of any new album for an electronic artist) and the genres that Spencer decided to turn towards after spending enough time touring in the years leading up to that album: Melodic house, techno, progressive house. Alternatively Illusion of Perfection was much more varied with melodic house, progressive house, and the type of progressive house that’s oftentimes labeled in the west as “Trance”. From post-Illusion of Perfection onwards Spencer strongly shifted his focus towards that techno and house arena, collaborating around deadmau5, Qrion, and more. Stream of Consciousness was a new starting point for this development to sort of restart what people can expect out of his production wheelhouse. It was a good time, it wasn’t necessarily a major progression but instead a refining. I particularly enjoyed it as a contrasting album to Illusion of Perfection, opting to look at is as a sort of opening set that leads into Illusion of Perfection wonderfully.

Now, on his third album Equanimity, we get what truly feels like a sequel to what Spencer Brown did with his first two albums, an evolution of his mix albums and changes that feel much more substantial for the artist, if maybe a tad bit more cautions than I’d have hoped for. Let’s dive in.

A Strong Start

Equanimity starts off with its best foot forward: Awu Wemadoda, a collaboration with Grammy-winning vocalist group Ladysmith Black Mambazo driven by a memorable vocal hook. Both leading single and culturally-relevant, Spencer has used the track to place recognition on the multi-generational multi-ethnic nature of music’s history and dance music’s past in particular. It’s also the most “no-frills” and to-the-point a Spencer Brown intro has ever been. Where his first two albums kick off with patient beautiful starts that set tone wonderfully, this one cuts that start time in half and doesn’t want to waste much time establishing its beats. This isn’t bad either, in a way that I’ll explain in the coming tracks. But “18 Minute Loop” Awu Wemadoda is not. It’s a track that unfortunately exists in a space just a couple years after the astounding release of Lakou Mizik and Joseph Ray’s “Leave the Bones”; I say “unfortunately” because this wonderful album starter will inevitably draw up comparisons to “Leave the Bones”, which it really shouldn’t, for so many reasons not really worth exploring here other than to say: If you’re working with some new talent that represents another facet of dance music in your album that’s cool. The productions behind Awu Wemadoda are sleek, enjoyable, and work in the male-choir’s patterns effectively to the Spencer Brown template. The journey begins here and quickly hops through three hoops of tracks that are sure to impress.

SF to Córdoba continues a new naming convention of tracks that I think are going to retroactively rename “Airplane Tekno” to something like “SF to Germany” and get reconsidered as the origin of it all. Here his collaboration with Ezequiel Arias has an air of an Anjunadeep compilation to it; strong mid pads, light playful synth work and a steady guiding bassline. This track that hits closer to the 5-minute length compared to Awu Wemadoda’s sub-4 minute intro is the beginning of a trio of tracks that demonstrate how Equanimity sort of exists as a “mid-set” album, something very much worth praising. While Illusion of Perfection and Stream of Consciousness serve as a sort of “open to close but quicker” journey, it’s easy to feel both albums exist as the main set due to where they end in terms of strong jumpy finishing tracks. But Equanimity starts quick as if a DJ has already been playing for 90 minutes and a new one wants to get you dancing right away, SF to Córdoba and these two tracks following it don’t waste time maintaining that dance for you, ushering in that this album isn’t one that’s going to start with some nice vibes and take a really peaceful break the way Spencer’s first two albums did around “Airplane Tekno” and “LA ID”. No time, keep dancing. Mid sets like this are hard to demonstrate in album fashion as they maintain a night out at the club, keeping pace with what was already established but still needing to build up and amp up the experience for what’s coming without necessarily being the end of the road. It’s a difficult experience to manage, and even harder to squeeze into an album that’s supposed to feel like a journey that has an end point. But Spencer Brown makes the experience clear in this trio of tracks with how fast they move and how they don’t want to let you go for long.

We dash right over to 20ms, a playful techno number with Qrion that features a synth bar that’s clearly having its timing messed around with constantly, speeding up, slowing down. There’s even a few laser “pew pews” in the track’s bridge creating for what will inevitably be a blast to hear live as you can imagine Spencer playing around with this track’s loops to have a lengthy live edit. It takes me back to the first set I saw of his, an open to close hot after Illusion of Perfection’s release and he played what I presume to be an ID that featured numerous iPhone sound effects like the instant messaging bubble played at various loops and frequencies to mess with builds and breakdowns. 20ms is a fun variation on this idea that’s just a blast to mix with I’m sure. But no time to stay, 4 minutes later we’re over to track four with what’s maybe the most impressive number for me. Spencer Brown & iLan Bluestone have collaborated before to decent reception but Amber Leaf is a whole different beast. A meaty track that is perhaps the absolute darkest impression of a Vintage & Morelli track. The triple wind pipe flair, the deeper-trance drums, and that strange and foreboding growl synth imitate the Serbian producer in a way I really wasn’t expecting. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full cut of this track and one other from the album, it’s an irresistible vibe and to think that it comes from poster-boy mainstage presence iLan Bluestone is all the more impressive. I love it when this guy makes a track outside the box.

The Middle of the Mid-Set

Speaking of outside the box, at this point the album has fully moved you into its “mid set vibes” with the quick run through the first four tracks so it’s time to keep walking away from the borders of the box and go full-weird with Anjunadeep’s top-tier “weird melodic house” chief: Luttrell. Masonic & Webster is the darkest the album gets with its thunderously deep bass and strange blurps and chirps. The high pitched loops only give a little air of anxiousness, you can easily imagine this played when you want your set to start feeling a bit “steady”. This track is also not afraid to drop it all for a moment to have some of that organic Luttrell flair sound off for a little bit.

Just past Masonic & Webster is the album’s most daring moment that I’m sure Spencer and Wilt Claybourne must’ve been so excited to finish: Loccou serves as this album’s “LA ID” moment where the tempo is allowed to rest and adjust for a monent, shifting keys or genres a little more starkly in a way that doesn’t feel too drastic. What makes Loccou so astonishing is that it’s a breakbeat, the first one taking front and center in a Spencer Brown album. It also seems to feature what sounds like live sample productions a bit more with claps and some straightforward drum snaps. Loccou is elegantly mastered and slowly speeds up at its start to lift you out of the deeper techno vibes established across Amber Leaf and Masonic & Webster, which is good because past this mid-way point the album chills out for a little bit here and again on Papi’s Cenote so it can have a couple more dances before farewell.

Papi’s Cenote may technically seem like a simpler track on an album filled with some interesting numbers, but it feels so much more significant than that. My ears picked up some of the styles common on Intricate Records back in the mid to late 10’s like Orphyd’s “Hypnosis”. While not necessarily similar all around, both tracks have a sense of presence and calmness to them that feels very central to the peaceful mindset suggested in Equanimity’s title. Surely Spencer values this track considerably in the album since it’s one of three to have the longest running time despite it being not the most dynamic of tracks. Much like mid sets, since Spencer has ushered you past the half way point on his album, he’s allowing himself the chance of letting you inspect some of his music for a longer period of time; hoping you’ll appreciate the technical qualities and the opportunity to just “be” during this track. For that Papi’s Cenote may be the most personal and important track here.

Dance Again

But if you just want to dance hard, Spencer’s got plenty of the ol’ reliable progressive and melodic house for you here. Good Times is the longest track here and feels like a B-side from Illusion of Perfection that just never made the cut. Slower, ready to let those arps loop, and featuring that classic middle-EQ focused vocal hook, the track feels like his best version of a disco-tinged Toolroom tech house track, but not. Something you’d swap “J2” for right after “Nightwalk ”if you were looking back and tinkering with that 2018 album again. But don’t do that, just listen to Good Times and enjoy it today. I feel like sped up this number can also function well closer to the peak of a mid set if you’re trying to have the crowd ready to roll around for the main act. As it is on Equanimity, it’s such a steady bump to enjoy.

Curve brings back that Intricate Records familiarity but this time with Sergey Tkachev’s “Matorral”, a really wide mid-pad providing variety on a leading bassline makes for a track that makes you sense that build again that you get out of mid sets. This all gives way for a piano-led bridge briefly before springing right back to the loops. Curve is a neat track but not necessarily the most remarkable thing you’ll ever hear. But no DJ set will ever blow you away 100% of the time, it’s about a journey, and Curve is delicately placed here to build and build and build. Any trance fan such as myself can appreciate when house artists like a good bridge too. The mix hits its peak moment with Little Wane, a track teeming with punkier vibes, a simple “ey!” vocal chop and a blistering synth element that reminds me of GRUM’s “Stay” but with less noise, a little more restraint for the moment. Little Wane is the moment in the club night when you realize the set is about to wrap, this is just about it, and if Spencer Brown were playing you a main set he’d have his big moment next and then wind down. But this is a “mid set”, wind-down is just the beginning. So wind down the album does, almost quicker than the album starts, this time with Paavo’s alias “P.O.S.” and the track Afterparty Healing. While I wasn’t wild on this track on first listen, it’s unmistakable just how much Paavo’s P.O.S. alias has shined a light on the relevance of Paavo’s presence in the Above & Beyond trio. His knack for emotive piano touches and production flairs that set tone so well are a welcome way for Spencer Brown to close the album, to signify his recognition of the person who helped get him signed to Anjunabeats and propelled his career forward. The two made tracks together that released across the year with “Polar Bears” for Paavo’s album and there’s even b-side-style tracks releasing already for more support of Paavo’s “Deeper Tales”. Both albums connected to a sort of healing experience, Afterparty Healing ties the two together in a way that’s simple and effective.

What’s Missing

Equanimity is quick, to the point, a rugged version of a mid-set on an album that properly follows up what Spencer Brown began with his first two albums. While Stream of Consciousness may have been a realignment, this is absolutely an evolution forward. Spencer’s touting some upcoming live shows for the Equanimity tour, some of which will be able to support a much more robust experience aligned with what he has in mind for taking this album on the road (I imagine cool lights and displays). You can see there’s a bigger picture he wants to present here with Equanimity and the forthcoming tour. But I am, unfortunately, left a little wanting from the producer’s new album. I have a profound respect for what this album manages to pull off. Like I said earlier, doing an album version of a mid-set DJ mix isn’t easy. There’s no doubt some of this album developed across the past three years where being a DJ wasn’t exactly a stable certainty for a time and Spencer pursued a more peaceful and hopefully affirming place in his life. I can’t deny this album accomplishes what he’s searching for there and there’s more collaborations than ever before. As a DJ that had some issues with self-hatred and had a bad relationship with his sexuality, Spencer Brown reaching the place he’s in now is a healthy thing and I want more music from that healthy life balance. I just hope there’s room for some more songwriting exploration on his part. He’s proven to collaborate fantastically with songwriters already, “Stuck” was a highlight for me last year and I’d love to see more emotive written songs attached to Spencer’s fantastic workings. Paavo’s Deeper Tales album wasn’t a revelation but the album’s biggest moments carried emotional weight the same way we remember Group Therapy did so many years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if Spencer could find ways to do the same if he took some more time working with Paavo and finding a singer/songwriter or three to collaborate with to explore some stories together. It’s worked out excellently for Above & Beyond, Andrew Bayer, and so many others before.

Overall I’m happy with Equanimity, it’s always a great time when Spencer Brown puts out a new album. If you wanted the next version of what Stream of Consciousness provides, something similar but different, look no further. If you wanted to know when Spencer Brown will start breaking his own molds for something starkly different, the time isn’t here yet. You can’t complain about it too much tough, a new tour, a new label, a Spencer Brown that has survived the pandemic, we weren’t going to see an entirely new style yet either. I’m comfortable saying Equanimity and the supporting tour are worth your time and money. It’s got its surprises waiting for you and the DJ has been a constant supporter of no radio edits for the sake of demonstrating the beauty of the full cut. That hasn’t gone away and so my support remains as always.



Justin Fleming

Business admin graduate with a passion for games and music.