One minute I’m ready to shut my eyes, the next minute I’m clicking a link to a music video for Holly Herndon’s Home. It showers my eyes with a swath of logos of government agencies and cloud computing behemoths. The pale-faced, red-haired Herndon peppers into the screen and sings, “I know that you know me / better than I know me” in a conversation between the individual and the computer. It was a random click, but this is how Holly intended for me to first experience her output. When I’m at my most vulnerable and strangely receptive to whatever flotsam and jetsam my internet box with an apple logo wants to spit out. The San Francisco-based cyber sociologist with a degree in composition, dissects the nuances, paranoia and stark reality of our ever-increasing digital lives on the Kraftwerk-cum-neo-electronica Platform, and it’s nothing like we’ve ever experienced.
Platform could be seen as a contemporary art project. Where on a track like “Home,” Herndon addresses the freaky possibility that the National Security Agency could be getting pinged when I type the harmless acronym on a Google doc. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but hers is the voice from which we look over our shoulder towards the window in an empty room. It’s the scene from Hackers when Phreak wakes up to the the FBI storming through his window to arrest him coming to life. That strangely prophetic future is here, and Platform documents it musically with the use of intricate electronic beat structures and even the application of a sonic stimulative sensation phenomenon known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
“Interference” feels like a leather jacket-clad Kawasaki ride through a Tokyo tunnel in an evening montage scene of a sci-fi anime flick, the authorities chasing the subject as she rides at 120 mph through a beat. Yet Herndon still manages to reach musical accessibility with operatic crescendos on “Morning Sun,” the beat borrowing from the footwork school of Chicago’s late DJ Rashad.
The cryptically scrambled vocals of “Chorus” envelop you into the world that Herndon is creating, the veritable digital chaos comprised of binary codes swirling over your brain, cloaked in mysteriousness. The ocean samples spliced into “Unequal” blur the line between indoor/outdoor. Why go outside when you can experience the beauty of the world on your screen?
The words on “Locker Leak” are as perversely resonant as those on Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album; their meaning, much like their placement, seems trivially placed. Like James’ “milkman,” Herndon’s dissection of “glass/grass” lingers repeatably on the tip of the tongue. Herndon’s music is art that has more to say than just what’s on the surface.
You see, Herndon’s socio-digital commentary is one that has never been packaged with this kind of accessibility before, and on the legendary 4AD label no less. Herndon’s most successful endeavor is carving a niche for her work to be heard by indie blogs and mainstream music media alike, without resorting to a watered-down pop formula to get her message across. Platform is still avant-garde enough to only be appreciated by some, but those who break through the surface, will understand this album for being the important, temporal work that it is.