About two thirds of the way in to Holly Herndon‘s Platform, on the track “Lonely at the Top”, there comes an intimacy so disarming that, on first listen, I was unsure of what I was hearing.
Platform is Holly’s second album; I reviewed her first album, Movement and, though I liked it a lot, I found it a little too disjointed, calling it “admirable geekery” that needed “more substance to be fulfilling”. And perhaps this is why I am so enamoured of Platform — it is more joined-up and coherent as a singularity — more than a collection, it has something of the narrative shape that I associate with the idea of an album.Whilst Platform carries many of the same motifs of Movement — the disjointedness is a signature, and Holly’s use of techno repertoire and her insistence in making challenging music that is both dissonant and hauntingly melodic has been one of the delights of discovering her work. The opening tracks remind us that we are not in traditional techno territory — and I love that I am able to even write that, to say that the genre has survived and sustained long enough for traditions to have been established, only to be challenged by new artists, with samples and sequences that are not quite what you’d expect. Yet there is a danceability, a catchiness, to much of this album, that only appeared fleetingly on Movement. Platform is a bold and beautiful record, and I was simultaneously lulled and energised by the newness of its sound. This record capitalises on Herndon’s ability to collaborate, with input from variety of artists ranging from soprano vocals (Amanda deBoer Bartlett of Ensemble Dal Niente) to co-writing credits with contemporary artist Spencer Longo and overall production collaboration with digital DIY artist Mat Dryhurst. The third track “Unequal” is a real gem, its strange and haunting vocal provided by drag performer Colin Self, with looped and dissonant backing that is utterly engaging. The fourth — “Morning Sun” — is a gorgeous hypnotic ballad that puts me in mind of Donna Summer‘s version of “State of Independence”, with a strong structure and glorious vocal it is a love story for the AI world.
But it is not until “Lonely at the Top” that I realise just how subversive this album is, with its soft, entirely whisper-spoken vocal (from Berlin Community Radio‘s ASMR ambassador Claire Tolan), backed by what appear to be the sounds of a keyboard being tapped, pages being turned, of water running and slooshing. It is a weirdly intimate conversation and a journey into Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response — the heightened sensations triggered in some individuals by certain stimuli.I spoke about Holly’s influences briefly when I wrote about Movement and it is perhaps unsurprising that Laurie Anderson‘s influence is even more obvious on Platform — there is a more direct engagement with the listener. I feel addressed directly by much of the material on here. It is more human even in its machinelike alienness, a feeling which maybe comes through strongest on “Locker Leak”, with its mashup of advertspeak and melancholically melodic electro.
Ultimately I think Platform is a really good record. It asks a lot of the listener but it also gives a lot back. It is fun whilst being thought-provoking. Themes of surveillance and inequality run throughout and through more lyrically accessible writing this record manages to be more obviously subversive and better for it, not least because it offers another viewpoint, a way to engage with technology in a positive way; direct action through love. It is musically thrilling, a really uplifting record, which in its themes allows us, perhaps, some access to explore our own conflicted feelings about the technologies that inhabit and invade our own private lives.