The Best Albums of 2015: #3

band013. Holly Herndon, Platform (4AD)

Somehow an album sounding “dated” has become a bad thing. Many music enthusiasts, including yours truly, get sucked into the notion that great new music has to have a timeless quality, a sound that transcends whatever year it comes from. And I won’t lie, that kind of music is still tremendously exciting, those rare occasions where an album will forever sound strange, alien, inimitable. Ege Bamyasi, Killing Joke, Dimension Hätross, Loveless, The Drift, are just a few examples. What I was reminded of in 2015, however, is that it’s also okay for an album to evoke that exact moment in history, to capture a snapshot of what popular culture was like. Something not necessarily ahead of its time, but of its time. That idea is a central theme on Holly Herndon’s peculiar MacBook experiment Platform, as the artist strove to piece together an album that, to her anyway, would accurately capture the essence of 2015. Taking a piece or two from Larie Anderson, Yoko Ono, Kate Bush, and Four Tet, Herndon created not so much an album but instead a piece of “sound art’, which indeed feels more like a gallery installation. As far as “glitch” goes, this is one of the glitchiest records I have ever heard, but to Herndon’s great credit, her skill at creating sonic collages on computer is countered perfectly by her compositional skill. A doctorate student in music composition at Stanford, you can hear the command she displays throughout the entire record. The glitches, the cutting and pasting, the pitch-shifting, and strange samples and spoken word pieces all serve the song itself. So as peculiar as tracks like “Interference”, “Chorus”, “Unequal”, and “New ways to Love” sound at first, their subtle melodies slowly creep into your head. The more you hear it, the easier it is to digest. And when you take it in on headphones, which I did on a daily basis for months, it creates the craziest, most beautiful little movie in your mind. Then there are the two stylistic extremes that sporadically duel throughout the album. “Morning Sun” is an homage to country music, its harmonies, vocal overdubs, and gentle blips, bathed in warmth and light, easily the closest thing to a straightforward track on the record. On the other end there’s “Lonely at the Top”, a bizarre exploration of the ASMR fetish (yeah, it was new to me, too) in which intimate whispers, sound effects, and taps supposedly trigger pleasure centres in listeners. Critic Suhail Malik says art will create in the individual a sense of either “escape” or “exit”. You will either “escape” the world and retreat into yourself, or use the art as an exit strategy to drive yourself towards new ideas of your own. “Exit Strategy”, the standout track from this astounding album, combines Herndon’s innovative laptop collages with a sneaky vocal performance that morphs into an utterly gorgeous chorus, during which she muses about the concept of an exit strategy. “What could we be, with will and belief? Why stay apart, when we can leave together?” Just unresolved questions. Is this futuristic, or is it merely a product of its time? Is it too pretentious for its own good, or does it have substance and merit? It’s up to listeners to decide for themselves. Such is art. (Spotify) (YouTube)