Release Date: May 19, 2015
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Club/Dance
In a world where levels of political engagement often feel frustratingly restricted, it is common to hear griping about a lack of politically engaged musicians and songwriters. Perhaps it’s more that these musicians are increasingly less likely to reside in the territory of the troubadours. San Francisco based electronic collagist Holly Herndon’s music seems constructed as much as art as it is as fragmented pop music, enhanced by a multimedia element so strong it almost makes little sense to hear the music divorced from her dazzling, absorbing videos.
Holly Herndon's second full-length continues her exploration of precipitous contrasts and complex electronic production. The gut-wrenching dynamics and pinpoint accuracy of her music stand out immediately, but where previously she has used these tools with deft restraint, Platform finds her letting it flow unabated. Herndon's music continues to push against the dichotomies of human and machine, intimacy and technology.Herndon crafts organic bodily noise into tough and wiry electronic music.
Holly Herndon’s songs play new tricks on you with each listen. The Bay Area composer and singer’s work percolates in the mind first, unlike the elemental club music that informs its sprightly tempos and ebbing bass. But though Herndon’s music is at its core "cerebral"—all surface details and richly layered textures—it still exhibits warmth and emotion.
Holly Herndon’s 2012 debut album proper, Movement, was an imposing listen in many ways. Much of the sonic catharsis conjured by the California-based producer, composer and Stanford doctorate candidate across the record’s seven towering takes on vocal manipulation and icy techno-laced experimentalism veered a great distance from what you might consider conventional songwriting structures and techniques. To say it wasn’t a joyous listen, however, would be to do Herndon a great disservice.
Holly Herndon's first album, Movement, was an austere but still extremely physical record, one that focussed on her relationship with a physical machine: her laptop. Its follow-up, Platform, comes closer to leaving behind the corporeal entirely. It sees the body as an avatar and concentrates on its potential for digital connection. Here the human is not just with the machine, but in it.Many of the sounds on Platform are drawn from Herndon's personal internet use, often via an application that records the audio coming out of her browser.
Just as Holly Herndon's debut album Movement had abundant layers in its title alone, its follow-up Platform is just as nuanced in how it combines political, technological, and structural and ideological concepts into a single word. She explores all of these ideas in thought-provoking and unsettling ways that expand on Movement's fragmented, ethereal approach. On tracks such as "Chorus," which was made from samples of Herndon's Internet browsing; "Home," a breathy piece of pop inspired by NSA surveillance, and the eerily erotic sketch "Lonely at the Top," she blurs the line between intimacy and invasiveness, providing commentary on the way humanity and technology interact that elevates Platform into a true work of art.
Californian electronic experimentalist Holly Herndon has never quite convinced on record in the past. Whilst 2012’s Movement, for instance, was undeniably very impressive, it also never quite lived up to its potential, failing to fulfil some of the ideas that it did a very good job of putting on the table to begin with. Platform is unlikely to encounter similar criticisms.
Not many current acts will make it to a sixth album, but Hot Chip’s latest reflects their growing maturity and comprehensive knowledge of dance music. They nod to Kraftwerk, Orbital, funky 80s pop and the golden age of disco, while Roxy Music-like dancefloor ennui nestles comfortably against a masterful juggling of ecstasy and melancholy that recalls peak-era New Order. De La Soul’s Pos even drops in to add a rap to Love Is the Future, without ever compromising the band’s distinctive sound.
It has become something of a cliché to wonder where all the protest singers are, as if the only way to tackle questions of politics through music is by pulling out an acoustic guitar. Holly Herndon offers something different. An academic studying at Stanford University’s Centre for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, here she tackles some very modern issues – inequality, the surveillance state – not through polemic, but through ideas.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Experimental music is often a difficult sell - it doesn't matter what ingenuity gave birth to the sounds and structures contained on a record if listeners are unable, or indeed unwilling, to engage with it. Of course, this isn't to say that artists should "dumb down" their work to appeal to the masses, but offering a route in for a listener who might not come to the album with prior knowledge of its recording process and purpose, will encourage them to start scratching away at the surface.
The most disconcerting thing about Platform isn’t how it sounds like a fractured kaleidoscope. It’s the cover. Holly Herndon, redheaded and cherubic, stares into the distance as her portrait is obscured by both steely matter and an red screen. The screen obstructs her vision while the matter obscures her mouth.
The twitchy, cyborg kineticisms that Holly Herndon has dripped out over the last few years can project something of a desolate exterior. Like a foreboding (i)Cloud hanging over the world of experimental composition, the San Francisco-based technophile/producer/academic emerged in proper with 2012’s Movement, a fragmentary exploration of the connections between woman and machine. Its skittering, inhuman dance beats have ancestors in the mechanized dystopias of Autechre and their contemporaries, but there’s also a brighter undercurrent that separates that record from such predecessors.
Holly Herndon’s latest collection of avant-garde electronic music is smart, innovative, politically urgent, and very, very sensual. Make no mistake, it’s laptop music through and through. It completely refuses the comforts of pop or dance — unified voice, repetitive chorus, consistent beats, etc. — and risks leaving many listeners cold.
Bay Area electronic artist Holly Herndon is an award-winning experimental composer as well as a former Berlin club kid, and both sides of that background come through on her beguiling second album. Herndon's music is body-moving and confusing, with cybernetic vocal shards crisscrossing above tracks that can recall Aphex Twin's techno contortions. "Lonely at the Top," a highlight, strips away the music entirely for a satire of pleasure and power with a Black Mirror vibe.
Over the past few years, a string of critically acclaimed releases, singular videos and much-talked-about live shows have seen Holly Herndon rise to a prominence not usually associated with such experimental, academic music. Her stock-in-trade is processed, chopped-up found sounds set to harsh, often complicated electronic rhythms – so far, so cerebral. What makes Herndon stand out from her peers is the space her work finds for melody and textural warmth, often creating an effect as comforting and hypnotic as it is disorientating.
Being a cynic isn’t easy. On one hand, you may be the closest thing to a “voice of reason” in many situations. On the other hand, few people will want to hear you out, favoring instead the power of positive thinking. Holly Herndon is a San Francisco-based sound architect who is keen on having it both ways.
It's fair to say that modern communication can be a deeply wearing arena. Internet fatigue is a well-established concept, not to mention the constant cycle of being in-between endogenous opioid rushes as text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, etc. alert notifications arrive or the fact that most of us stop breathing at the point of opening up our email inboxes.
Holly Herndon, "Platform" (4AD Records). The San Francisco-based Herndon is a singular artist whose productions blend layers of electronically manipulated voice with beats, noise, sibilant textures and filtered sound to create eardrum-tickling joy. On her second album she manages to sound both ….