The eagerly anticipated second album from San Francisco's Holly Herndon, here at last! With Platform, she continues to investigate technology and surveillance society through the prism of glitched electronic avant-dance-pop. Dense productions swirling with digital detail, Herndon is a talented and exciting musician. Delve in.
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Holly Herndon has generated a considerable buzz since she released ‘Movement’ on RVNG intl. in 2012. Her music seems to straddle progressive electronica, contemporary pop and avant garde composition; all bundled together with a hefty conceptual dose of technological evangelism. Describing ‘Platform’ is her ‘paradisic gesture’, the album furthers her multifaceted, high-definition exploration of the (apparently) liberating potential of technology. Straight from the opener, ‘Interference’ we’re immersed into a dense soundworld of intricate details and disparate sonic fragments, all slickly interwoven into a coherent but complex sense of rhythmic and melodic structure.
A lot of the singular character of Herndon’s music is down to her extensive use of her own (and occasionally others’) voice as a primary sound source; a source that is processed and edited into startlingly novel musical constructs of various degrees of abstraction. The track ‘Chorus’ is a prime example of how she uses this kind of voice manipulation in a kind of mosaic effect to drive nuanced melodic ideas, as well as convey actual linguistic information; all grafted atop nervy beats and icy, hollowed-out bass. There are times where I take issue with some of the proggy electronica beats that punctuate the more interesting melodic experimentation with vocal textures, like on ‘Locker Leak’ for example, in which the heavy-handed percussion reduces everything to a sub-Autechre exercise in IDM (can a PhD student making techno-derived music make anything but IDM?)
When Herndon keeps the beats relatively simple, as on ‘Unequal’ with its booming compass, the results are pretty spectacular. The whole track has a contradictory atmosphere, like a kind of futurist monastic incantation from a technological dark age; with stark melodic chants building up over earthy textures into a stirring climax of cascading choral lines; somehow reminding me of some of Jarboe’s emotive harmonies in certain Swans tracks or Coil’s ascetic electronic voice manipulation exercises.
Even at her most pop, as on ‘An Exit’, there’s still a ton of depth and detail there that’s hard to assimilate on one listen– there are just so many layers ripe for exploration on this album. And even though I don’t really ‘feel’ the tech-utopianism of Herndon’s conceptual vision, the more I listen to this album the more I like her music; even if it does sound more like a Philip K. Dick nightmare than ‘paradisic’ to my ears.
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