Planningtorock W(DFA) Buy it from Insound
Given the evidence, you'd forgive anyone for taking a pass on W. Those who have heard of Planningtorock (AKA British-born, Berlin-based artist Janine Rostron) will have most likely done so from her collaboration with The Knife on last year's difficult (but sorely under-appreciated) Darwinian opera Tomorrow, in a Year, or her thoroughly demented support slots for LCD Soundsystem. And for those that hadn't there are the ridiculous descriptions of Planningtorock as 'a dark sexy creature that sways with the relentlessly swinging propeller sound' (from the album's press-release, which also throws in a comparison to Yoko Ono for good measure) or 'Bolton's answer to Grace Jones' (from an interview in The Guardian, and presumably based more on Rostron's androgynous image than her music) to get past.
It would be a shame if that was the case however, as much like MEN's Talk About Body from earlier in the year, underneath the visual arts references and overly serious descriptions W is an immensely entertaining record. Right from the throbbing, elastic bass-line that opens the album onwards, W shows the same flair for the hugely dramatic that props up the very best electro-pop. Amongst the many delights that confirm Planningtorock's pop leanings are Living It Up's take on the joyful idiocy of 90s euro-dance and lead single The Breaks' nabbing of Beat It's opening riff. Perhaps the most distinctive is the liberal use of saxophone over much of the album, although this isn't the ghastly, shrill thing that made much of the 1980s' musical output completely unlistenable, but a thick, reedy honking that harks back to the instrument's baroque origins.
If a comparison is to be made then The Knife wouldn't be an unfair one. Certain songs do share a common DNA with Tomorrow, in a Year, such as the clattering percussion of Jam and Black Thumber's call and response pattern (before it evolves into its own icy beauty), but there are also similarities in tone to the Dreijer sibling's previous work, in particular the dark, clubby sound of Silent Shout. Like Karin Dreijer Andersson, Rostron is also very interested in running her voice through a vocoder to see what shapes she can twist it into. However, Planningtorock isn't a mere copycat act; where The Knife were often cold, sinister and cerebral, Rostron isn't afraid to be playful (her vocal impersonating recalls Bjork's Medulla in places, such as the Triumph of a Heart-a-like guitar mimicking on I'm Your Man) or surprisingly soulful. W is also a much sexier record than you'd think it would be, considering that its cover features an image of Rostron impersonating a Jean Cocteau portrait by sporting a lump of putty on her nose. Manifesto, for example, comes with the suggestive chorus 'I'm a believer of suckular love' and I'm Your Man includes a purred offer to 'pour you a cup of tea / We'll share our love for music / While I'll lick you clean'.
That's not to say that it's all fun and games - Going Wrong is sinister right from the pizzicato strings down to the cat-like wailing – but the attempts at seriousness don't always work quite so well. The album's more muted second half includes a couple of misfiring attempts at atmosphere with Milky Blau and her wispy cover of Arthur Russell's sex-attack ballad Janine not leaving much of an impression. Fortunately, closing track 9 is an absolute stonker, taking in a taiko-style drum-beat and multi-tracked vocals to create something rather addictive (rather fittingly it culminates in the line 'We never want to go home').
While Rostron's influences are often on show, and despite her not always manage to transcend them, she does manage to stamp her own personality all over W and combine the ingredients into something new. Scrape back the artistic pretensions and what's left may be one of 2011's most purely enjoyable, and boldest, records.24 May, 2011 - 11:45 — Mark Davison