With EEJUNGMI, Katie Lee is finding the artistry and beauty that’s inherent in all human relationships.
2021 marks the ten-year anniversary of Native Speaker, the debut LP from Montreal-via-Calgary-based band Braids. It has remained a critically lauded and much-loved album to this day; it is also the last record to feature Braids’ founding member Katie Lee as part of the band’s roster. The “messy” breakup left Lee deeply wounded, so much so that any attempt at making music left her revisiting the experience and unable to create. When resolution between Lee and her former bandmates came, so too did a sense of empowerment and renewed creativity. As she told Jesse Locke last year, “Now I can actually move forward and make other things. I’m excited to let this go and start writing other stuff.”
That “other stuff” came in the way of Contribution, Lee’s first new music as EEJUNGMI, the anglicized version of her Korean name. A curious choice, naming a solo project Contribution, but the title, like Lee’s music, works on so many different levels. In one sense, Contribution is the sound of Lee working out a new relationship with herself as both an artist and a human being. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m not /good enough,” she sings on the EP’s title track, “If people leave because / they can see the true nature of / my insecurities.” Lee seems to be in a strong confessional mode on “Verity,” reflecting on her own behaviours and impulses (“How clearly I have seen my actions yet, how childishly I’ve acted”), a song that ends with her soaring, heartfelt voice morphing into a siren-like wail.
While lyrically, Contribution seems insular and isolated, musically, EEJUNGMI is expanding and exploding faster than the universe. She’s an expert in subtlety even when making highly energized and charged electronic music. The rush and pulse of “Contribution” never feels overwhelming and overwrought even as it spins and whirls around you. “Breathless” is a superbly intimate portrait of the artist-as-instrument, placing the sound of her own breathing at the core of its minimalist composition. It’s not at all surprising to learn that Lee has been pursuing a career in architecture since her time in Braids; she applies its principles of repetition, rhythm, symmetry and transformation in the way she constructs the epic and always engaging ten-plus minute closer “Effort.”
EEJUNGMI’s Contribution is a cleansing; Lee sounds like an artist finding a new path forward and a renewed sense of self. Lee, like her music, is multifaceted and complicated in the best possible sense of the word; she’s not afraid of dissonance and she’s willing to find the artistry and beauty that’s inherent in all human relationships. In essence, Lee has learned to let go and is now open to receiving what the universe is sending back to her.