Holly Herndon: Platform (4AD)
Holly Herndon’s press profile is a PR person’s dream: she has her hands firmly in the visual and performance art scene while her music manages to appeal to techno heads and experimental electronic fans alike. She has a distinct talent for rhythm and noise, but she often exploits that against recordings of her own voice or others’. Her previous release on RVNG Intl, Movement, seemed to oscillate wildly between trackier acid workouts and then more experimental vocal pieces. If the goal of Platform was to assimilate that yin and yang of sound, it’s a brilliant success, often splitting the difference between her more dancefloor friendly tendencies and her enthusiasm for shaping and manipulating sound. The sound design of Platform is undeniably more complex than that of its predecessor, a much bolder artistic statement from start to finish. It expands on Movement’s curious nature and then some, with an often thunderous layering of voices and beats that rivals the densest moments of Diamond Version. Whereas Diamond Version is focused on commentary about media and automation and production, often using soundbytes and focusing on rhythm, Herndon’s tendency to layer voices in both lyrical and abstract ways is at the heart of what drives most of these pieces. In its leaps and bounds into “now” from its predecessor, Herndon quickly ascends to align herself with other sound artists such as Björk, Oneohtrix Point Never, Leafcutter John, and AGF. The safest entry point for Platform is from the beginning.
“Interference” is a provocative opener, mapping out the aesthetic of much of the album right from the start. Herndon’s voice is processed and manipulated as gated arps and patches of sound, with a thick rhythm and bass section. A bulbous square chorus synth underpins it, giving it an extra bit of accessibility and swagger, while wet and noisy noises syncopate within and around. Alongside “Chorus,” the next track, this shows off Herndon’s interest in combining highly abstracted sounds with unpredictable and complex rhythms.
“Chorus” was released as a single last year, and what a great teaser it is. It exploits and syncopates her vocals in ways that recall the more dancefloor-focused efforts from Laurel Halo or Ellen Allien. When it all comes together, it’s gorgeous, a really soaring spectrum of sound between its staccato vocal patterns and warm, hefty low end. But fans of that more accessible sound are in for a surprise in the proceedings, beginning with Herndon’s collaboration with artist and choreographer Colin Self. Self’s vocals on “Unequal” are gorgeous, simultaneously fluid and organic and also angular and synthetic; Herndon edits tones of Self’s voice into a cut-up accompaniment to his main vocal, eventually adding her own vocals to the mix in a compelling fullness. With the exception of “Morning Sun,” wherein Herndon takes on a more typical pop song in her own particular way, most of the rest of Platform is pretty leftfield.
The syncopated snippets and vocal treatments of the opening cuts finds its way consistently into “Locker Leak,” “An Exit,” and “Home,” but the strangest excursion on Platform is certainly “Lonely at the Top,” a collaboration with Claire Tolan, a Berlin-based ASMR-tist (autonomous sensory meridian response) that juxtaposes the idea of tingling derived from certain stimuli against a rather mundane spa context, with coddling, almost saccharine delivery about ambition and entitlement. It’s not my favorite cut musically (in fact, it’s a bit disruptive to the flow of the otherwise more musical tracks), but its pure artistic intent and keen sense of irony make it conceptually spot-on for Herndon’s world within Platform. It’s a compelling and interesting journey from start to finish, highly recommended for anyone interested in new and unique voices in electronic and conceptual music.