Thaniel Ion Lee has a pretty cool website. I’ve been clicking around it for a while, digging into a conceptual artist’s various works done over the past decade or so, and I’m not sure I can get a handle on it all. Lots of mediums, soft beauty and spiky styles laid across drawings, sculptures, paintings, single-sentence poetry and sound works. The website reads like a resume, a list of achievements, residencies, and a document of all of these strangely coded messages. Web presence? Mr. Lee has that too, lots of links to info about him, what he’s up to, what he’s done… and just try sending him an e-mail if you’re interested. You’ll get a message back in under 10 minutes. That’s almost a guarantee based on a couple of tries already. Need to know more about him? He made a handy list of 21 essential things you should know.
And yet Thaniel Ion Lee remains hidden in darkness. Not many reviews of his music floating around, and I certainly hadn’t heard of him before this white box showed up in the mail, wrapped in twine with a pretty doily covering the CD inside, his name sloppily scrawled in blue ballpoint pen on the front. Mysterious, but there’s really no mystery at all. My mind is a bit baffled by all of this to say the least, but the point is that the name Thaniel Ion Lee should be ringing out on the regular in the drone scene, as this CD-r really shows that the man is deep in the game and succeeding wildly in his own right, whether or not folks are paying any attention.
Lee has some background in black metal, and the genre definitely hangs around his work with the oddly-titled “White,” which is a very dark world of shape-shifting, pulsing terror. Whether he’s meaning to come off quite this creepy is up for debate, but the way the mix itself is shrouded with harsh, intimidating atmospheres and primarily focused on bass frequencies, the feeling of impending, certain doom is palpable. This is even when things get beautiful, which is paradoxically quite an often occurrence. “Distant Stars” is an early favorite on the disc featuring a gentle and very lovely guitar line that gracefully emerges from a dense fog of harmonic noise. Later “Chimes of Distant Lands” finds smooth strokes of intoned feedback streaking across a brash storm of torrential winds.
Like Evan Caminiti or Nova Scotian Arms, Lee pulls his various pieces of sound into carefully structured works that are fully formed and realized, well-paced and managed. And like the aforementioned, Lee also employs careful attention to the little details within, like dynamics and textural malleability to keep each piece moving from start to finish. The fact that these pieces are so well-rounded gives each track its own little narrative, modest in their potential for psychedelically cinematic qualities if experienced with deep, long breaths and eyelids softly shut—scenes of nature, winter storms, earthquakes, celestial bodies, etc. appear from the mist on a fairly regular basis throughout “White.”
But if I had to make another comparison for the album, I might go with something like My Bloody Valentine, as strange as that might sound. Lee’s calling card seems to be distortion—and not even actual distortion necessarily, but the feeling of distortion and the way that word can lead to concepts of beauty. There are a lot of antithetical, clashing sounds and feelings throughout this album, sharp tones scratching up smooth ones, disharmonies beating against one another. But the way these parts and pieces rub together sands the entire mix down into something polished and porcelain.
“White.” Huh. I guess it makes some sense after all.