Recent output from 4AD continues to amaze me.  One minute you think you’ve pretty much nailed the type of musical output which 4AD produces – and then comes along ‘Platform’ by Holly Herndon, like a kid who comes running into the room, kicking over everybody else’s creations and then leaves through a different exit, completely oblivious of the devastation he’s caused.

‘Interference’ sets the scene – and when I say ‘sets the scene’ it more or less lays down the law, instructs you to stop whatever you’re doing and listen up.  It’s brash, exciting and most of all – different.  To say that this album’s ambitious is an understatement.  ‘Platform’ is for all intents and purposes, a collection of voice samples and electronics which Herndon slowly weaves into a pattern.  The music doesn’t for a moment feel disjointed.  It’s actually a very, very clever album – clever in a way which reminds me of the first time I played ‘Zoolook’ by Jean Michel Jarre when he attempted something which could be classed as even remotely similar.  That was the last time I recall hearing anything in the same vicinity as ‘Platform’ – and that was 31 years ago.

We’re at track #4 – ‘Morning Sun’ – before I hear a track which I could even half imagine being played on the radio.  But this is music which really pulls you in.  I defy anybody to sit on the fence with this album – you’ll either love it or hate it.  And most people I’ve been talking to about it appear to be in the former category.

It’s bold of 4AD to release this album.  For a long time the label was hounded by accusations that it had lost its way after releasing so many fabulous records through the 80s and early 90s.  However, following releases from Daughter, Purity Ring & Serena Maneesh during the past few years, it looks not just to be back – but back in a big way.  Unafraid to release music which we couldn’t have dreamt of at one point, it looks to not only have reclaimed its identity but has come back stronger.

‘Platform’ is full of music which will challenge you.  Believe me when I say that’s a good thing.  You can’t dance to it, play it ‘in the background’ or disregard it.  It will throw you curveballs and you’ll not know what to make of it for sure, but you’ll return for multiple visits and maybe during the twelfth listen, something will finally click.  ‘An Exit’, for example, sounds like there’s a whole manner of different sounds going on.  But with those sounds it builds, develops, breathes life.  It’s as if there’s a song fighting to get out, but it’s ring-fenced by all sorts of electronic shenanigans.  I love stuff like this – it’s the musical equivalent of the old saying – “Given an infinite length of time, a monkey punching at random on a typewriter would almost certainly type all of Shakespeare’s plays”.  Put those self same monkeys in a room and ask them to reproduce ‘Platform’, I’d like to bet they couldn’t do it – even with an infinite amount of time.

‘Lonely At The Top’ is one of the most bizarre tracks I’ve heard in a good while; the entire track is spoken – all 4 mins 30 secs of it – and it’s just, well, plain bizarre.  It’s like the voice is repeatedly praising us – “I don’t know how you do it”, she says.  ‘Chorus’ is possibly the most accessible track – I say ‘possibly’, and that’s because you need to bear in mind that ‘accessible’ is not a word which could easily be banded around to describe this album, for ‘Chorus’ is itself full of tangents.  Only at 2 minutes into the track does it even become ‘accessible’.

People used to comment that music is an art form – well, it certainly is here.  Herndon has succeeded where many have gone before her and failed.  Everything else feels simply old-fashioned as a result.

Paul Lockett

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