Any discussion of Holly Herndon’s newest album, PROTO, must start with how it was conceived, but it doesn’t have to end there. Herndon, her partner Mat Dryhurst, and programmer Jules LaPlace brought to life an “A.I. baby”, name of Spawn, who was taught to translate arrangements from Herndon and a slew of collaborators, resulting in something beyond any sort of “futuristic” descriptor. While this innovation was happening, people were debating over whether a Led Zeppelin dress-up band is kind of bad or really bad.

Herndon’s music is not for everyone, not even for everyone who’s open to experimental or electronic music. PROTO, like predecessor Platform, is far more focused on what she can do with sounds rather than how she can make them melodic. After Platform put her on the map, she nabbed a slot opening for Radiohead (alongside Dawn of Midi and Shabazz Palaces, in what should be retroactively dubbed the “You Thought Blink-182 x Lil Wayne Was Weird? Tour”), but she’s taken notes only from herself and those who can handle being on her wavelength. PROTO, true to its title, evaluates what it’s like to be the first of something, and how much in the infancy of our digital age we are.

Radiohead may have found a compatriot in Herndon based on the dystopian, surveillance state-focus of Platform, but PROTO reckons with technology and how far it could go in quite an optimistic sense. Speaking about the album, Herndon said, “Choosing to work with an ensemble of humans was a statement of principle that relates to A.I. I don't want to live in a world in which humans are automated off stage." She has taken a proactive approach to addressing where technology in music could take us. If there's a few nicks and scratches along the way, remember Tony Stark’s first Iron Man suit was a bit unwieldy.

Though Herndon’s approach is novel and her sound is uniquely hers, you can still trace it back to other genres, some older than others. The massive choirs that give PROTO its gravitational pull hearken back to her formative years spent in church. Fans of glitch and PC Music will enjoy ‘Alienation’, but they may be split on the parts they enjoy the most. Early-released track ‘Godmother’ enlists post-footwork maestro Jlin to help show what happens when a robot creates something we can only hope DJ Rashad is able to witness, somewhere, somehow. You can even find hints of dream pop in the pockets of cosmic wonders like ‘Canaan’ and ‘Crawler’.

But this is not an album that you can begin to even halfway understand with crib notes like the ones I’m providing. Hardly any track here feels predictable or like a retread of anything she or anyone else has done before, and emotions are layered just as finely as the voices are. The coos of the dazzling ‘Eternal’ run into the heft packed from the percussion, showing she refuses to see mutual exclusivity between force and beauty. ‘Crawler’ slinks ever so sinisterly, with truly terrifying vocal processing midway through, and coming to be like a “sounds of nature” CD that’s mutating.

Though the album is, by and large, vocals, pay close attention to the cleaner, relatively unprocessed ones if you want to find just how much of a heart it has. PROTO is about belonging and self-discovery as everything changes, with others or alone. ‘Crawler’ concludes with a menagerie of vocals asking “Why am I so lost?”, the spoken word ‘Extreme Love’ is led by a young girl, who tells us, “We are completely outside of ourselves and the world is completely inside us.” On ‘SWIM’, Herndon confesses her need for solidarity, while on closer ‘Last Gasp,’ she declares, “I belong to you.” She makes a strong case for technology not robbing us of our connection but giving it a new shape.

PROTO is already one-of-a-kind, but there are times when Herndon could’ve stood to push the envelope just a bit more, instead of giving lovely but somewhat slight and redundant moments like ‘Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt’ or the ‘Live Training’ interludes. But she’s in a class of her own when it comes to this sort of electronic pioneering. She’s done something that hardly anyone, musician or otherwise, has done in recent memory: She’s given us hope for the future.