Album Review: Holly Herndon – ‘Movement’

I like to think of myself as an ‘adventurous’ person when it comes to listening to music, I think that to understand the boundaries of what you love you must explore beyond those margins for no other reason than to simply gain perspective of those limits & potentially expand them. It’s why I’ve come to love artists such as Oneohtrix Point Never, Laurel Halo & Death Grips, overcoming my initial repulsion against this music to learn its nuances and appreciate what it is trying to achieve.

When this process is done well it can broaden your perspective of music & enhance other works as well. However, when it goes wrong it can unfortunately amount to nothing more than pretentious noodling rather than breaking new ground. Holly Herndon teeters on the edge between these two, her music is experimental and has moments which are thought provoking and ambitious. Conversely, her music sometimes dedicates itself to musical directions which really are not pleasant to listen to at all. Perhaps this is the intention of her music, but, even if it is, the conceptual aspect is, sadly, outweighing the aesthetic for the music to be enjoyable.

I suppose this embodies in many ways the central debate within experimental music; experimental music defines itself as a genre which attacks or confronts boundaries, or at times disregards them entirely. Therefore, it could be argued that enjoyment shouldn’t really come into the equation; herein lies the problem. It makes the music too mathematical, too clinic and ultimately too serious. As such, on a theoretical level Herndon’s music is successful, however, working on paper and working in practice are two very different things.

As an artistic statement her music works, she pushes the boundaries of what I feel are acceptable in music and as such any criticisms I have only reinforce the concept of her music. However, does experimentation for experimentation’s sake justify itself? I would argue that the lack of an artistic statement above pushing musical boundaries renders Herndon’s music unenjoyable overall. Much like composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Herndon’s music is an interesting musical theory which perhaps doesn’t translate well when actually recorded.

However, I feel like I’m unduly attacking Herndon’s music, above all what she is trying to achieve is worth pursuing. She’s certainly a more commendable artist than most, when I think of how many artists I feel are so unadventurous and close-minded, Herndon definitely feels like a breath of fresh air. I went into this album with a mentality of wanting to have my musical horizons broadened and I suppose ultimately her music was beyond my comprehension – I would love to hear the opinion of someone who is more fanatic about experimental music rather than my mere dabbling in the genre.

I’m not going to pretend this music is for everyone, in fact I would argue that only a minority of people will enjoy this music. That said no matter what your opinion of her music aesthetically is you should appreciate what her music represents & that is the pursuit of discovering new and interesting ways of composing music. Perhaps her music is a little navel gazing, but if the alternative is mediocrity then give me artists like Herndon every time. If it weren’t for artists like Holly Herndon, music would revert to the likes of JLS, and Mumford and Sons,and for that I am grateful to her.

Ben James

Ben is listening to Crystal Castles – III


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