Planningtorock challenges Lady Gaga for gender-defying album of the year!

Album Review – Planningtorock – W

With the current media hype about Lady Gaga and her constantly revolving wardrobes, it would be easy to think she was the only shapeshifter in pop.  Not so.  She may get the headlines but she doesn’t cross the transgender lines like your regular androgynous pop star.  Of course David Bowie was the pioneer of sexual ambiguity, and thereafter followed a genre of imitators, although usually it was the men that wanted to be women.  More recently the music industry has spawned a number of women that have reversed the trend for sexual mystery, including the electro enigma from Berlin, Janine Rostron, aka; Planningtorock.

Featured on the front cover of her sophomore album, ‘W’, (initial could be a nod to her female origin), with a prosthetic nose looking like a cross between Jean Cocteau and Anthony Hegarty, Rostron announces her intent to mystify and provoke.  The whole album is cast in shades of playful, sexual ambiguity, that is contrived to both confuse and tease the listener in equal measure.  And here lies the dichotomy of the album, on one hand the cross-gender provocation and the liberating sense of adventure is tantamount to the album’s appeal, on the other the sheer willingness of the chanteuse to hide behind her manly mask , and gravelly voice, is perhaps, and frustratingly, a missed opportunity to attain greatness by revealing her true voice.  Many of the vocals dispel all feelings of emotion and character by feeding the voice through a series of effects, which mutate the singing into a male burr or demonic purr.

Last year’s collaboration with the Knife’s, Karin Dreijer Andersson, for the Charles Darwin inspired opera, ‘Tomorrow, in a year’, points towards the shared visionary magic of the two equally perplexing and innovative artists.  Certainly fans of Andersson’s side project, Fever Ray, will find much in ‘W’ to love.  The main cornerstone of the music is buried in a similar off-kilter, unsettling electronica.  Although Rostron elevates her music to a more theatrical style, and one, at times, that certainly knows how to groove, especially in the electro house of ‘Living it out’, coming over all Grace Jones with a funk strutting chorus.

The sense of artistic playfulness is stamped all over ‘W’, none more so than on album opener, ‘Doorway’, featuring arresting synth stabs that sway and pulsate, with Rostron repeating the mantra, ‘I know my feelings.’  All through the album Rostron alludes to sexual desire and intrigue, in ‘Manifesto’ she bellows, ‘I’m a believer in suckular love’, over a bouncing and clacking rhythm.  ‘Going wrong’ displays the theatricality of Planningtorock’s mandate, arriving with pulsating strings and hushed tones it swells to a sax embellished funk, complete with wailing and miawing, like a cyber-age Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The audacity and inventiveness of ‘W’’ is thrilling with the contorted synths and pulsing beats balanced perfectly with the warm and fuzzy tones of the saxophone, used liberally throughout and perfectly executed on ‘The One’, brooding and melancholic, the sax lifts the mood and casts light on the wistful gloom.  Bringing the album back down to mediocre reality are two ambient tracks towards the end, ‘Milky Blau’ and ‘Jam’, the former is an underwhelming orchestral ditty, while the latter can only be described as an electronic drone.  Majesty is resumed on following track, ‘Black Thumber’, with its call and response synths and orchestral washes it is reminiscent of Moby at his soundscaping best.

W’ leaves Plannningtorock with an intriguing decision, does Rostron stick or twist?  Persevering with the disturbing male register could ultimately hinder her chance of being heard by a wider audience and receiving greater recognition for an album that, at times, touches excellence.  However the master manifesto behind the album is to arouse and bewilder, expelling the sexual ambiguity would cast aside both the artistic and social statement of the singer.  Inspired by masquerading phantom pretensions she will realise better than most, that true feelings come from within.

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One Comment to “Planningtorock challenges Lady Gaga for gender-defying album of the year!”

  1. I don’t agree with you. There is plenty of feeling conveyed in her unique voice.
    And why should someone sound “normal” in order to be embraced by the masses?
    I by sheer chance discovered this album and instantly was moved by the recordings
    of “The one” and “9”. Thank God she does not sound like Lady Gaga or anyone else.
    Music and singing that has it’s own unique signature has a realness and integrity
    missing from most pop music that adheres to conventions of worn out familiarity.
    Your reduction of her voice as manly or demonic is not fair or accurate. Closer, is
    a female voice agumented with effect. In the world of types of male & female voices,
    there are a multiude of timbres. To me, being assurd & different is a acknowledgment of the unheard
    and the unexpressed in our world. Weather music is simple or complex, when listened to it ether
    resonates feeling that moves you or it does not. For me, this does.

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