Holly Herndon - Platform

by David Bruggink Rating:8 Release Date:2015-05-21
Holly Herndon’s first album for 4AD, Platform, frequently reminds the listener of their place in a world in which communication is increasingly mediated by technology. Its discernibly human elements - recordings of singing and speaking - are typically surrounded by a maelstrom of digital detritus, an astoundingly intricate weave of chopped up and contorted field recordings. The record’s complexity is one of its most striking characteristics; trying to latch onto any particular sound as it flies past is like riding in a speedboat and trying to focus on the crest of a wave beneath you, then being hit by a seagull in the face.
 
Yet beneath this inscrutable sound-collage lurk some relatively recognizable instruments as well, and Platform’s more accessible tracks cohere in a way that’s very effective. ‘Interference’ is grounded by a fairly ordinary kick-drum and bass-synth, but its stream of hectically evolving samples (clicks, pops, pitch-shifted vocals, bursts, scrapes, claps, and all manner of unidentifiable sounds) makes it feel utterly unique. Even more interesting, these initially impenetrable samples become melodic elements which complement Herndon’s voice beautifully, standing in for string sections or other more conventional instruments. 
 
The album is challenging, particularly when it takes on a more academic quality. The emotionless spoken words of ‘Locker Leak’ seem cobbled together from spam email subject lines, like a search engine’s morally neutral stream of consciousness. Then there's ‘Lonely at the Top’ , which is probably as close as you can come on an album to being given a back rub (and, uh, maybe something more) with a soothing voice in your ears. It might frustrate someone looking for a more conventional album, but it never ceases to be interesting.

Considering the album's strong conceptual inclination, it's impressive that it also features so many delicately composed and memorable moments. The album's finely-woven fabric of unlikely noises is a testament to Herndon's ability to recontextualize sounds as music - and, indeed, as art.

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