W.H.I.T.E.’s third album is O.K.A.Y.
Aagoo Records, 2013
6.3 / 10
Cory Thomas Hanson’s stage name is W.H.I.T.E., but you’ll also find it online as “W-H-I-T-E” or just “WHITE”. It doesn’t stand for anything, and I still can’t understand the choice in typography, but it illustrates a fine point: Hanson is an artist that doesn’t like to take the straight path, the easiest path, or the one that seems to make the most sense. The name was chosen for the open possibilities that the color white offers. Despite being vaguely menacing in its sheer blankness, white represents an all-enveloping canvas that doesn’t have a beginning or end, top or bottom. Hanson can throw whatever sounds he likes on this canvas, and he does just that. His third album, III often feels like a playground where he can play with whatever instrumentation, arrangement, texture, or rhythm he so desires.
Hanson’s voice channels Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and his sound isn’t too far afield from that band’s The King of Limbs record from 2011. W.H.I.T.E. opens III with “I Wasn’t Afraid”, easily the best song on the album and the most accessible. The song’s synthesizers occupy every bit of aural landscape that’s not already claimed by the drums or Hanson’s voice. It’s a great piece of confectionary pop, and it’s III’s most wholly satisfying song. The rest of the songs on III are more interesting than they are enjoyable. Listeners might feel a bit tricked into this album because opening III with “I Wasn’t Afraid” feels a bit like a bait-and-switch trick. The following track, “Can’t Fight the Feeling” slowly morphs from a folk song to a full-blown electronic daydream, but it doesn’t have a strong melody to serve as a through-line. The rest of III follows suit, and many of these songs feature arrangements that progressively become more electronic as its length goes on. As W.H.I.T.E., Hanson brings synthesizers, electric guitars, shades of reverb, etc… in at a moment’s notice. Having these tools at his disposal doesn’t necessarily mean that he should be obligated to use them, though.
III took two and a half years to create, but it doesn’t sound like it. The album sounds calculated to a degree that excludes much passion or instinct. More attention is paid towards texture than to rhythm or melody, and while that makes for a cerebral listen, it’s not always immediately pleasurable. And even though texture plays a key role on III, there’s rarely more than 3 or 4 instruments playing at once. If W.H.I.T.E. is a canvas that Cory Thomas Hanson can create art on, many of these songs are left blank; these songs (with the exception of “I Wasn’t Afraid) sound barren and spacious. Hanson sounds overwhelmed with his own freedom – at any given point, he’s trying to do too much with too little. For example, the last track “Building On” feels like a Radiohead song, on top of an electronic instrumental track featuring synthesizers, on top of “Alone” by Moby. The whole album is vaguely disorienting, and, apart from the sounds of running water in the background of a few tracks, there’s not much that brings III together as an album. As it stands now, the music of III falls in the murky area between synthpop and ambient, but W.H.I.T.E. fails to do either of them effectively by striving for both.
“I Wasn’t Afraid”