[sic] Magazine

Holly Herndon – Platform

It’s well known that pop music doesn’t have to be popular, but experimental artist Holly Herndon blurs the boundaries still further with Platform. Herndon is a PhD Computer Research in Music and Acoustics student at Stanford and Platform’s collaborators include a “word sculptor”, as well as Mat Dryhurst, her husband, who designed a web-browsing and audio-gathering programme that randomly spits back Herndon’s search history by way of song lyrics. Much of Platform is hence an exploration of digital potential rather than pure experimentalism, an exposé on the subject of our relationships with technology – both good and bad – and of unwelcome surveillance. This said, and to those familiar with Herndon’s debut album, Movement, it will come as no surprise that Herndon’s own relationship with technology is one of unrestricted manipulation, the human voice rendered a lump of clay for her advanced tools, pitch-shifted ranges run through a sharp-edged turbine, strong techno beats piecing glitchy ambience, fiery distortion and sub-bass together into an uneasy tapestry alongside her rain of vocal confetti.

Where Movement was clear in its Avant ambitions, Platform has designs on the mainstream. Herndon has no intention of moving to it, however. She wants it to come to her. Her Chorus EP, of course, hinted as what was to come – its title track, so ahead of its time, and which again features here, still sounds like body-popping future-pop, Herndon’s elfin vocal the silver lining to starburst beats and choral flourishes that vent like steam from the mix and which together can’t help but draw parallels with Björk’s recent Vulnicura in the process. Those that thought the Icelandic one could have done more with her team of Arca and The Haxan Cloak need look no further than Platform’s strong opening quartet. The vocal compression on the later single, “Home”, too is very Björk-like, Herndon’s NSA protest made dizzying by the track’s waves of heavy synth. Tech in the wrong hands, you see, can be worrying. In the right hands in can place the plainly operatic alongside complete computational meltdown and make for a real clash of culture such as on “DAO”.

Platform’s smarts never in doubt its concessions to pop then seem a touch overly calculated at first. Its structure, for example, ten four-to-five minute tracks, certainly runs like a chart-bound statement, many of its jittering moments of beauty playing like they’ve had non-essential frames cut. As soon as you start to get comfortable, however, Herndon pulls out the big guns, chief of which is the remarkable “Lonely At The Top”. Purely spoken word and incidental capture, it’s voiced – in sensual whispers – by Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response artist Claire Tolan. ASMR is a condition where the subject experiences pleasurable sensations from external stimuli such as ambient noise. During “Lonely At The Top” the crinkle of bubble-wrap, pages being turned in HD audio hiss, and possible urination lend the composition both a familiar aesthetic as well as an outsider folk-art vibe akin to the work of underground experimentalist Hal McGee. Tolan’s uncomfortable and suspect vocals “massage” the subject as sequenced-sound art wins out over anything resembling traditional song-craft. Remember as you listen that no matter your response it’s better to feel something than nothing.

Back in the realm of recognisable melody, social commentary “Locker Leak” reels off advertising slogans in a style that would make James Ferraro proud, the track hauled back from the edge of parody with choral work smeared out into synth drones. The insanely busy “An Exit” earlier speeds down cul-de-sacs and emerges from blind corners like These New Puritans’ slashing Hidden LP while “Morning Sun” layers a number of vocal tracks behind an unmolested one, surging harmonies overlain as if by accident and which come together in crushing crescendo. Platform is a celebration of untapped potential and with tracks like these it feels like Herndon is only just starting to uncork hers. Whichever fork in the road she chooses from here is Herndon’s to command if she wants it, but you get the impression she’ll continue to forge her own path no matter the relative attraction of each.

Best track: “Chorus”

~Platform is released May 18th 2015 via the collaborative efforts of 4AD and RVNG Intl.~