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Album Reviews

Holly Herndon - Platform

Liam Comer

     Experimental-electronic producer, Holly Herndon, is in no way typical, by any means. The Stanford doctoral candidate has been raising eyebrows in the musical community with her abstract approach to music since 2012 with the release of her debut album, Movement. Making her start in the Berlin underground-techno scene, the now Bay area-based composer has an uncanny ability to concoct ambient melodies from otherwise cacophonous aggregations of sound. Holly Herndon’s music is definitely not for the lighthearted. It casts a glitchy and chaotic tone that captivates and involves the listener.  It’s more of an immersive experience than a mere amusement to the ears. Her work transcends the typical boundaries of music, adding unusual sound effects and vocals to the mix.  The composer’s latest record, Platform, is no exception to her avant-garde style. 

     Herndon’s sophomore LP, Platform, is an unusual collection of songs to say the least. While adhering to her typical chaotic experimentalism, she also incorporates more unexpected elements into the record such as the use of binaural audio and frequent spoken word. Non-instrumental sounds and ethereally layered vocals are constant throughout the album.  The LP’s title, Platform, is a clear reference to social media and the digital age. Her intended political message is difficult to find in the album, as it is often clouded by the noise of her experimental techniques. The opening track and previously released single, “Interference,” is the quintessential example of Herndon’s work as it is oddly, both stressful and tranquil. It juxtaposes a jarring beat with phantasmal vocals. The track later incorporates deeper synth elements and adds a slight sense of anarchism to the vocals, ultimately creating a nebulous and entrancing ambience. The following song, “Chorus,” happens to be one of the more straightforward on the record. It steers away from the use of sound effects and focuses more on layered vocals and rhythm.  Although it may be the longest song on the album, “Chorus” is definitely one of the more coherent tracks. It contains more of a sense of continuity and fluidity than many other tracks within her discography making it one of my favorite songs of hers.  

     Probably the most abstract track on record is “Lonely at the Top.” It lacks any sort of musical instrumentation and is instead four and a half minutes of eerie speech and sound effects. This track uses 3D or binaural audio in attempt to evoke a sensation known as ASMR within the listener. ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) is identified as the tingling sensation that one receives from various auditory, physical, or visual stimuli. It can be compared to the sensation one receives when their back is “drawn on,” or their ear whispered into. “Lonely at the Top” illustrates an odd dialogue between what seems to be several escorts and a client, with the faint sound of dripping water and the brushing of skin in the background. While weird and unsettling to hear,  listening to this track with headphones on is definitely an unusual yet enlightening experience. 

     As to be expected with the experimental genre that Platform finds itself in, the record definitely lacks a sense of coherency making it tiresome at times. Herndon’s frequent flirtation with dissonance and sampling of so many unusual sounds can often create a “trying too hard” vibe especially for those who are unfamiliar with experimental music. While the LP contains a plethora of brilliant and innovative concepts, it appears more as a messy agglomeration of ideas and attempts, than a finished record. For those searching for an auditory experience that is shrouded in experimentalism and abstraction, Platform is the ultimate record for them. It quickly conjures up unsettling and stressful emotions, suddenly whirls the listener through euphoria and then pulls them back to reality again. Holly Herndon’s ability to compose evocative and sensational electronic music is arguably unparalleled. Otherwise, this record will oftentimes sound chaotic and glitchy but it is still definitely worth a listen. Platform is the perfect foray into experimentalism and a refreshing dose of something new and unique.