Review Summary: Explosive and cerebral, Herndon's sophomore release molds an assortment of sounds into a resonant musical manifesto.
It is the year 2015 and we are living in a society in which post-modernism is now an assumption, even to those who do not know it by name. We accept the idea that most cultural output, from visual art to pop songs to the newest Mad Max
film, might just as likely be imbued with a multiplicity of equally appropriate interpretations as they may resist coherent interpretation altogether. Insert some canned statement about the age of attention deficit, digital consumption, and millennial sensibilities, juxtapose it all with the now-trite fact that the renaissance of laptop music production is upon us, and we have all the necessary conditions to receive an album like Platform
. Holly Herndon, compiling elements of EDM, sound art, and pop while co-opting (and totally owning) a 'glitch art' visual aesthetic, capitalizes on a fragmented cultural moment with great success in her 2015 sophomore release.
To say nothing of the conceptual premise of the album, Herndon's work demonstrates a mastery over her craft and an impossible, potentially over-acute awareness of her contextual position in the music world. Having spent time in Berlin engaging with the city's thriving EDM scene and in Oakland obtaining her MFA in Electronic Music and Recording Media, Herndon acts in some ways like colossal genre-defying conduit, or perhaps like a four-dimensional VST plug-in for a breadth of pop and counter-culture mores, allowing material to pass through her and come out the other end uniquely affected. As it takes cues from an overwhelming wealth of contradicting signals and appropriated motifs, Platform
pulls listeners in all directions, leaving each unsure whether the appropriate response is dancing, spacing out, taking notes, or perhaps simply yelling in-time.
The confusion inherent to Herndon's form is not alienating, but alluring. Sub-bass blares sporadically and synth melodies dance around the mix while samples of both Holly's voice and the world she lives in are spliced and applied to all the proper areas. Starting with moments of alternating brightness, dissonance, and over-crowdedness in "Interference", Herndon eventually arrives at tracks in which her natural affinity for major-key hooks shines through (see "Morning Sun"). The constant barrage of shifting tone palettes and frequency ranges is intoxicating to anyone familiar with the work of artists from Dan Deacon and Animal Collective to Lotic and Flying Lotus. Ultimately, Herndon achieves the 21st century avant-garde dream: mediating the sound of mediators without restraint.
When we find ourselves meta-abstracted this far out into the ether (as we often do these days, frequently without choice), we are forced to ask big questions. Is this piece a decadent display of high post-modernity, or does it explicitly comment on the movement itself? Are we being spoken to, or spoken at?
Choosing one answer or the other is at minimum insufficient, but more-likely-than-not results in false simplicity, wherein the most appropriate answer to either question is actually "sorta both."
Despite the complexity of her compositions, Herndon is prepared to defend Platform
as having coherent themes and messages (it is, after all, in the album's title). In a sentence, we might say the album is about finding genuine interpersonal interactions in the digital age. But then what of "Locker Leak" in which Herndon devotes herself entirely to vocally emulating various advertisements? It seems hasty to assert that Herndon's clear allusion to ASMR in "Lonely at the Top" is simply about digital communication (I am inclined to see it as both a critique of transitory entitlement endemic to the mainstream entertainment industry and as a necessary lapse in mediation, perhaps the only moment in which we can visualize Platform
disconnecting itself from the global network and leveling with the listener-- I'm sure there are other equally valid takes I'm not thinking of). There is the primary interpretation of this album-- the one Herndon can reasonably be expected to talk about in interviews, the one that will make the most amount of sense to the greatest number of people (which is to say, still a fairly small minority of music consumers)-- and then there is the rest of the album: expansive catacombs beneath the surface, waiting for courageous listeners to excavate and study its contents. There are countless paths to follow through from beginning to end, all of them auricularly and intellectually engaging.
Holly Herndon is brave, smart, and bold. What Platform
lacks in widespread accessibility, it more than makes up for in depth and contemporary relevance. Sure to be hailed by cultural commentators and computer music nerds alike, Herndon has produced the most 2015
album of 2015 so far. I'll let you tell me what that's supposed to mean.