Holly Herndon - PROTO - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Holly Herndon - PROTO

by Tim Sentz Rating:9 Release Date:2019-05-10
Holly Herndon - PROTO
Holly Herndon - PROTO

Experimental composer Holly Herndon has never been an easy artist to unpack. Every composition she’s put out there has needed to be delicately torn to pieces and skinned raw to really appreciate what’s inside. Her approach to music is similar to others in the genre like Yves Tumor and Oneohtrix Point Never, except Herndon is always at the center; her elegant symphonic voice carries each of her albums, no matter how indecipherable it may be at times.

After the critically acclaimed 2015 album Platform, Herndon’s kept quiet until now, with the release of PROTO, a whirlwind of brutal gothic electronica. Her second offering on 4AD, Herndon’s punishing her listener with synths that are so gargantuan and room-filling that it’s hard to escape. And while she does this with intricately stitched together songs, she manages to slide pop into it, in the avant-garde way she’s been doing effectively for years now.

“Alienation” acts as the first proper song, after “Birth” which feels more like a segue between albums than anything else. The glitch-tuned vocals are spliced with hard-hitting, sharp-edged synths and crashing cymbals. It’s loud, it’s epic, it’s Herndon doing what she does best and that is create a cacophonous world within her music. Those who prefer their pop more direct should steer clear, but adventurous listeners have a lot to dissect with PROTO.

Littering the album with these moments of throaty choir singing, like on “Canaan” and “Crawler,” offer breathers between the ear-shattering clangs of her production. Herndon approached this new record differently than her last. She’s incorporated an electronic choir, composed of human and non-human entities (named "Spawn") to give PROTO an other-worldly feel. Despite this, early highlight “Eternal” feels weirdly inviting, and one of her most invigorating pieces of work yet. It’s dance-floor being fired through the glass ceiling of a vault, and somehow manages to come out on the other side unscathed. If Platform was Herndon’s attempt at politics, PROTO is the answer to the last 4 years since she’s been absent. It’s the heart of 2019 being blenderized and reformed, cut up into smaller pieces and re-assembled in whatever world Herndon wants it to be.

There’s a subterranean feel to PROTO, that’s very organic and part of the Earth, but it still feels foreign at the same time. Unmistakably Herndon, there’s never a moment on PROTO that feels half-hearted. Even on tracks like “Crawler” that feel disposable to the untrained ear, have a lot of depth and heart to them. Herndon doesn’t hide on PROTO, she just submerges herself in this contextualized world she’s created. “Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt” shimmers with it’s auto-tuning to the brink of coalescence with the synths. “Frontier” is Herndon’s answer to big-band jamming, and “Godmother” features Jlin doing what Jlin does best and that’s stripping any kind of coherence out and leaving everyone perplexed.

PROTO might be Herndon’s crowning achievement, the third film in an epic trilogy that feels like it’s tied up all of the loose ends assuredly. It’s harsh and unforgiving in its finality but doesn’t just act as a bookend to her career, instead, it reinvigorates her for the next step. PROTO is exciting, morbid, and flourishes at all of the right moments. To sum it all up simply, PROTO is mesmerizingly blistering.

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