December is a little late in the year to welcome a new candidate into the best music of the year chatter. Efforts released in either November or December of any year are always forgotten or simply assumed to be a part of the following year’s releases: it’s very easy to get swept under the rug. Holly Herndon isn’t letting that happen to her. On November 13 she released her RVNG Intl. debut Movement which has stormed the techno and experimental worlds alike: Holly has stepped in as the genre’s new hope.
The seven track LP is a quick roll through vocal performance and mutation, computer geek techno plays, and electronic music card tricks. The title–Movement–is a suggestion of the body, bringing visions of athletic musculature and vocal exercises: Herndon’s focus is on the human body’s performance. Title track “Terminal” eases you into Holly’s world with a vocal piece that is stretched and stretched and stretched until it is nearly mistakable for the hum of an overworked laptop. “Dilato” is a high art cousin to this LP starter and a clear play on distending the voice to shrill scratches and in-synch pitches. This song was my first introduction to Herndon and was cause to perk up at the thought of electronic music digging and digging back toward the experiments they originated from.
As avant garde as she can get, she can and does turn out some ball busters. “Movement” (at top) runs itself closely with alarm sounds and squeezes beautiful vocal sweeps through a fan. It is essentially the song that you would want to have played if you were escaping from zombies on a dance floor. “Fade” (directly above) is clearly the best electronic song of the year, a surprise you will want to build up from after “Terminal.” The song is a complex, layering of vocal chants (The phrase “Reach out your hand.” is folded and unfolded, over and over itself like vocal origami.) underneath powerful synth kicks, bass, and an ending breakdown that no techno genius in Berlin could ever reach. It is complicated, it is fun, and you feel like you need a cigarette after listening to it.
Herndon is so damned good because she is building her own world of academic electronic atop of an already rich history of music in an often obscure genre. Encounteringmanyinterviews with her, you find that she is a Tennessee singer who moved to Berlin, discovered techno, and has since dedicated her life to understanding and challenging what singing and music making can be. She is currently studying to be a doctoral student at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics program. Basically she’s getting a doctorate in electronic music: that is how fucking legit Holly Herndon is.
The album is a treasure and a first effort that dares you to question its power. Movement is an on-trend entry into the “doom” house that Andy Stott, Demdike Stare, Laurel Halo, Shed, and more have been making–yet Herndon’s effort deserves to be installed at MOCA. In repeated spins of Movement, you delve into bigger questions related to electronic performance, the female body, and queer theory: in the male dominated worlds of science and electronic music, where does an extremely experimental American female fit in? Herndon is taking cues from historic female and queer electronic artists like Laurie Spiegel and Wendy Carlos and answering this question. Get ready to hear a lot more from Herndon–she’s just getting started.
Kyle introduced my to Planningtorock, a Berlin based electronic musician who often explores gender issues in songs, pitching her voice lower to sound more like a man. Her song “Human Drama” is on a lot in our apartment. A few days ago she did a mix for Fader and I’ve been really digging it. It’s an eclectic mix of tracks she’s been listening to, hopefully you discover something new.
1. rROXYMORE – LONELY RITOURNELLE XIII
1. JAMES K – DIRECTION
1. PLANNINGTOROCK – ALL LOVE’S LEGAL – MOKADEM REMIX
1. GLASSER – WINDOW ii
1. THE KNIFE – TOOTH FOR AN EYE – COOLY G REMIX
1. MEDUSA – NEHEB N3CH HAYATI
1. HYPERAKTIVIST – REMINISCENCE
1. PURSUIT GROOVES – DEAREST NATURE
1. PLANNINGTOROCK – MISOGYNY DROP DEAD – HOLLY HERNDON REMIX
1. VUVUVULTURE – DEAF EPIC – CREEP REMIX
1. LIGHT ASYLUM – FATIMA AL QUADRIRI REMIX
1. PLANNINGTOROCK – HUMAN DRAMA – PERERA ELSEWHERE REMIX
1. KAREN GWYER – FREE FOOD_ONE MEN STRIPER
1. MOLLY NILSSON – ATLANTIC TALES
1. ANIKA – BLOODHOUND – DUB
1. TIRZAH – SLOW JAM
1. FATIMA AL QADIRI – HYDRA
1. PLANNINGTOROCK – BEYOND BINARY BINDS
1. PAULA TEMPLE – CLONED
1. LISA DILLAN – SITTING BULL – PIECE FOR CHAIR, FLOOR & VOICE
1. HOUWAIDA FEAT. CHIHEB – JANNA
(Ed. note: Planningtorock deliberately numbered each track as #1 so there is no hierarchy among them)
Thug Entrancer (AKA Ryan McRyhew) is Software‘s latest effort to rethink or change the electronic music landscape. They are releasing the debut of the Chicago-by-way-of-Denver musician’s Death After Life on February 11, a serious dance record intended to experiment and meditate on the TR-808. What’s interesting about the release is it’s clever monotony: it features eight songs called “Death After Life” along with bonus cuts “Ready To Live,” a two part song. All the sounds are coming out of the same pool of 808s but feel particularly polished and new, perhaps what the new life being suggested in the title is.
Where we live in Southern California, the Prius is the It Car. So many people own one! Popular, yes, but it also has turned into a status symbol: owning a Prius means that you are able to afford one, that you care about the environment, and that you are alternative enough to say no to a luxury brand and yes to a Toyota. Even if you don’t believe in any of those things and are just driving one out of hype or peer pressure, you still are A Prius Owner. Did you not see that episode of South Park?
There is one thing to say about the Prius and most electric cars: they are so quiet! If you’ve never heard one of these cars, that’s because there is nothing to hear. They have a very low, unmistakeable hum—but they are anything from automotive. The absence of a sound leaves something to be desired and also leaves room for trouble. How is it possible to avoid a car if you can’t hear it? How will a lack of car noises affect the sound of cities? Is there a way to rethink the sound of cars?
That is what Sonic Movement is: it is an effort to think about the sound design of cars since they will eventually go silent.
It’s that time of year: it’s the beginning of January, a time when I take to some Internet something to exhaustively share music musings related to the past year. It’s a reflection on works behind us that I’ve obsessed over in a vacuum and is an opportunity to share what people were and weren’t listening to. This is purely objective and from a very specific point of view. Unlike last year, I realized that this list isn’t very vanilla: it’s fucking weird. It’s not intended to be but, hey, the music that gets me off is typically oddball electronic, ambient, and experimental in nature. That’s kind of a warning: this list may not be for everybody. It’s also a long ride: hold on to your butts.