Available on: DFA LP
Janine Rostron is an artist who goes against the grain of an increasingly instantaneous musical culture. It’s been five years since her self-released debut Have it All, and a string of highly theatrical live shows sinc ehave confirmed the arrival of a genuine talent. Now PTR is back with W, a slow-burning album of arthouse-inspired electronica.
W is mostly sultry late night listening, as Rostron once again shows off her powerful, bluesy voice, particularly on ballads such as ‘The One’ and ‘The Breaks’. Yet, while PTR could give Adele or Janis a run for their money, instead she delights in processing her remarkable voice in myriad ways: first a whisper, then a holler; here a chorus of Janines, there a man in drag. In a pop world where AutoTune is routinely used to airbrush away sonic imperfections, it’s refreshing to hear voice processing used to make a singer more unique rather than less; more Meredith Monk, less chipmunk.
Yet, if Planningtorock’s control of her materials implies an artist confident in her own oeuvre, W‘s lyrical content belies that, promising only “a manifesto of uncertainty” (‘Manifesto’). “Am I holding on to something going wrong?” she asks on ‘Going Wrong’, as pizzicato strings hurry the listener towards a sense of foreboding. Confidence returns on ‘I am your man’, breakneck arpeggios announcing the adoption of a gender-bending cocksure bluesman persona: PTR playing Anthony Hegarty playing Divine playing Mick Jagger. The spirit of Divine can also be heard on the album’s other uptempo number, ‘Living it out’, a devilishly distorted take on ’80s Hi-NRG that three quarters in gives way to angelic pizzicato delight.
Sandwiched in-between these two tracks is ‘The Breaks’, a single and album highlight reminiscent of the elegantly emotional Billie Ray Martin. If ‘The Breaks’ shows off Planningtorock at her most straight ahead electro-soulful, ‘Milky Blau’ is PTR at her most avant-garde: slow, heavily distorted vocals, delay-fed electronics and orchestral sweeps, not unlike a latter day Scott Walker.
‘Black Thumber’ operates in similar territory, but dispenses with vocals entirely, its primitive reverberant percussion reminding me of the eerie experimentalism of a 23 Skidoo or Moody Boyz. ‘Janine’ is experimentation of another kind: an Arthur Russell cover version in which, by thickening and deepening her voice electronically, Planningtorock appears to be taking the role of an unrequited male lover who is singing a ballad to Ms. Rostron. PTR’s version may lose the countrified sweetness of Russell’s original but it gains in androgynous otherness: pop gender roles arguably haven’t been this blurred since Prince sang ‘If I was your girlfriend’.
Fittingly for a performer who found herself in Berlin, the album closes with the Weimar cabaret swagger of ‘9’, a sensual blending of Siouxsie’s Creatures and Goldfrapp features that more than matches its antecedents for execution. A powerful return.