Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Holly Herndon - Platform review

It's not often that I get excited about an artist over a record which leaves me completely cold, but this was certainly the case with clinical redhead goddess Holly Herndon, whose 2012 debut Movement was the very definition to cold. Whether it was the sharp and precise beats or the distant vocal samples, everything felt very clinical and detached. The fact that the record clicked with me so much is surprising considering how much I usually like music which is the complete opposite (both warm and organic). My immense excitement over Holly's music was fully justified when her (still completely incredible) single 'Chorus' dropped back in January 2014. A departure from the anatomical focus of Movement; Chorus marked the start of a new artistic chapter for Holly, one based in a not-too-distant digital dystopia in which our lives are dictated by technology. Fortunately for me, Chorus is just one of ten thought-provoking yet digestible pieces of electronica you'll find on this wonderful, wonderful record.

In the music media people seem obsessed with genres and labels. This is understandable bearing in mind that there are millions upon millions of releases all over the internet which are open for consumption. So for the sake of practicality, genres are there to filter out what we wouldn't like and draw attention to what we might like, based on our pre-recorded personal taste. But what happens when you refuse to be labelled? Holly Herndon has made it pretty darn difficult to categorize her music and it makes me adore her (and Platform) even more. 

But even within the broad 'experimental electronica' tag there are preconceptions of what your likely to hear, this again is something that Platform openly challenges. What was even surprising to me was how human some of the tracks on Platform are. Take the single 'Home' for example, like a handful of tracks on the LP vocals take centre-stage, the mix of Holly's lone vocals and the patchwork of cascading samples in the background create a sense of distorted euphoria, especially as the track breaks down and the electronics fade towards the climax. But perhaps the most 'straightforward' track on the record (I use that term loosely) is the stunning 'Morning Sun', a vulnerable ballad  which carries a surprising amount of emotional heft. One of the weirder moments is the ever-so-slightly spiritual 'Unequal', which stylistically can be best described as 'New Age for the digital age', here Holly uses hypnotic vocal manipulation to create an almost ritualistic atmosphere.

Aside from these more accessible tracks, Platform also features punchy beat-led electrobangers that I imagine would sound pretty epic in ~the club~ (clearly I'm an expert in this field). The opening track 'Interference' is an industrial break-beat masterpiece, laced with pulsating beats and throbbing drum machines. 'DAO' ensures the momentum is sustained in the latter half of the record, here we see Holly up her glitchy electronics game to a new level of theatricality. 'An Exit' is another playful yet challenging piece, it deviates between desperate and frantic to a euphoric and lush chorus-like moment. 

The range of sounds and styles Holly experiments with on Platform are what make it such an exciting and engaging listen. Over the course of 10 tracks she explores elements of  new-age, break-beat, techno, glitch-hop, choral pop, trip-hop, avante-garde, house and even ASMR. There are easily accessible and almost anthemic moments to be found on tracks like Chorus, An Exit and Morning Sun as well as bizarre left-turns on tracks like 'Lonely At The Top'. Some of her experiments are more successful than others, but overall this is an essential listen for anyone seeking to sonically explore the digital age we currently live in from a perspective which is both critical and celebratory. 


Best tracks: Interference, Chorus, Morning Sun, An Exit, DAO, New Ways To Love

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