Throughout most of music’s recent history, androgynous figures had belonged mostly to the feminine male category. There was a time when Boy George, Prince, and David Bowie enraptured fans with their gender-bending progressiveness, a now widely accepted ideal. Most recently; however, has been the rise of the masculine female, sparked by musicians like Kim Ann Foxman, Antony Hegarty and yes, even Lady Gaga.
Planningtorock, the alter-ego of Janine Rostron, continues that recent ambiguous progression on her new album W, writing and self-producing an album that is fantastic in the truest sense of the word. “I Am Your Man” takes that idea of un-identity quite literally, as Rostron sings “I am your man my friend / and I am just the right man for you.” Especially on the last verse of the song, as the pitch of the vocals are elevated, the voice is even more identifiable as a female despite the literal translation of the lyrics identifying in the opposite. This approach isn’t as much “important” for music as a whole, as it is great posturing for the album, giving W a translucent canvas on which to be filled.
As much genre bending as it is gender bending, W also carves out an entirely new place in the burgeoning world of ambient electronic music thanks to Rostron’s dark vocals and grandiose compositions. The album’s first single, “Doorway,” postures itself as a microcosm of what Planningtorock fuses. The deep and brooding arpeggiator layered beneath various string accompaniments pitched above that, all setting the stage for Rostron’s amazing voice as she sings “I know my feelings” in hypnotic timing. And although “Doorway” is a powerful track unto itself, in context of the album it is something of a calm before the storm, setting the stage with repetitious palpitations. Trying to narrow the list of Planningtorock’s influences to even a half-dozen is daunting, as “Doorway” itself draws on everything from Kraftwerk to 21st century underground New York hip-hop.
And with various influences comes a great variety of tracks. Ranging from more droning Panda Bear-esque songs on the back half of the album to lighter, more minimal pop sounds on the first part of W. “Manifesto” falls into the latter category, a bouncing three minute expose that showcases some of Rostron’s vocal prowess and dance driven production. Each instrument on “Manifesto” plays a simple part, the basic looping of a drum pattern, a quick shake of the tambourine, and the piercing sounds of a few keys tickled on a tightly pitched synthesizer. For most of the track it’s these three elements mixed together in various fashions, but during the third chorus, as Rostron bellows “a manifesto of uncertainty,” the whistling of a saxophone crescendos into one of the best and mostly tightly produced tracks of the year.
The less vocal and more sonically driven second half of the album focuses on Rostron’s experimental side. Fans of Planningtorock and The Knife’s collaborative project will feel right at home on “Black Thumber,” a track which takes full advantage of Rostron’s classical training. The ambiance and timing of each sound on “Black Thumber” gives the track something of a soundtrack feel, a collection of noises that would best suit matching movements.
Although there is a stark difference between “Doorway” at the beginning of W and “Black Thumber” or “9″ towards the end of the album, the shift in attitude is barely noticeable within the the album as a whole. It is the inability to identify a precise sound, while all the while remaining consistent, that is W‘s greatest achievement, a notion as ambiguous and tempting as Rostron herself.
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