Known respectively for their independent work as Botany and Lushlife, Austin producer Spencer Stephenson and Philadelphia emcee Raj Haldar selected their collaborative mantle and debut album title, The Skull Eclipses, when the project became more than just a one-plus-one combination of their individual sounds. These tenured creators initially set out to pay homage to the genres that convergently inspired them to start producing music in the late 90s and early 00s - jungle, breakbeat, drum'n'bass, trip-hop, electronic ambient, etc. - and bring them into the context of contemporary hip-hop. The outcome is a heavy-hitting, 11-track post-rap montage that seeks refuge from the present by opening doors to the past, winding up with something altogether more futuristic than either of its authors had consciously intended.
Stephenson's trademark fractalline production, noticeably more grim and aggressive than the tie-dyed psychedelia of his Botany project, provides ample space for Haldar's shadow-self to break through. Instead of assuming the centerpiece, the raps become impressionistic graffiti, scrawling messages of societal and personal frustration on Stephenson's walls of sound built of throbbing bass, gothic chants, somber vinyl samples, and tape-destroyed speech. Aside from displaying a wider tempo variation than any of Stephenson's work to date The Skull Eclipses is spun from sonic threads dark enough to border on horror. Songs are glued together with interstitial bad-trip creep-ups: melting choirs, doomsday evangelists, and the Judica-Cordiglia recordings that are purported to have captured the sounds of Russian cosmonauts burning up on reentry. As grotesque as that sounds, the album might be the most oddly accessible thing Stephenson has put a fingerprint on, each track being its own radio-ready package in contrast to Botany's album-as-song ethos of seamlessness.
Broadly, The Skull Eclipses is a post-hip hop album that harmonizes tropes of mid 90s electronic genres - ambient, downtempo, jungle, and trip-hop - under a hauntological umbrella. It is the first offering from a project that is as much indebted to Broadcast and The Focus Group as it is to Pete Rock and CL Smooth, but obligated to neither. Up close however, the album is a peer into the darker corners of two figures uncontent with blending into the tapestry of modern music, wholly committed to creating experiences over mere content, which is pouring in from all corners of a frustrated and distracted world.