23rd May 2011
CD, LP & digital
I Am Your Man
Living it Out
You don’t hear a record like W very often, that’s for sure, just as you seldom encounter an artist like Planningtorock. When you play W and let its melodrama and uncommon beauty grip you, suddenly all those cliches make sense: this album stops you in your tracks, blows your mind and makes you feel alive. It’s a remarkable piece of work.
While she is a new name to many, those who know Planningtorock tend to form a strong emotional connection with her work. No doubt about it, Janine is totally out there on her own, and with W, she’s raised the bar several notches, producing a powerful soul odyssey that ravishes the listener and comfortably ranks as one of the DFA label’s finest releases.
So how does it sound? Well, it’s melancholy and euphoric, epic in scale yet deeply personal, strikingly alien but weirdly familiar, and always daring and original. If we had to settle for one word: audacious. There’s plenty of saxophone and strings a go-go, but not the cloying kind that lure you into an ‘emotional’ state. From the pulse and jabbing pizzicatos on ‘Doorway’, Planningtorock unveils the unsettling yet heady allure of W. Or in Janine’s own on-the-money way, “a dark sexy creature that sways with the relentlessly swinging propeller sound”.
She very clearly knows her own feelings. A further example of this arrives swiftly in the form of ‘The One’, with the strangely distended vocal take cutting through the usual lovelorn tropes to hand deliver a deep love with all its layers and experience. Planningtorock also loves to toy with convention and the tongue in her cheek is often visible; on the “suckular love” of ‘Manifesto’ and her use of wailing within the maelstrom of ‘I am Your Man’.
W is littered with passionate gems like ‘The Breaks’, the baroque boogie of ‘Living It Out’, its grunting and growling straight out of Yoko Ono’s “Walking On Thin Ice”, the sharpened percussive scythe of ‘Jam’, the swirling otherness and grace of ‘Black Thumber’ and a provocative take of Arthur Russell’s “Janine”. Planningtorock stretches sounds and curdles her voice, a queasy rococo rush that has an intoxicating quality. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that what I do has a big percentage of elements that you just don’t know,” she says, “and that’s what makes it interesting.”
Janine composed the 12 songs that make up W over the last three and a half years, mainly recording in solitude in her Berlin studio. A gifted producer, she sings and plays everything – keyboards, strings, guitar – and mixed the record in Sweden at the end of 2010 during an intense session with Christoffer Berg. Additional contributions came from her Icelandic friend Hjörleifur Jónsson, who she recorded playing percussion which was later used as samples sprinkled across the album, and drummer Pat Mahoney, taped in New York. On the whole, though, Janine prefers to work alone. “I’ve realised that doing it on my own in my own time in my own way is the crucial ingredient.”
Janine grew up near Bolton. Her darker humour comes from there. “On the album I mess around with my voice a lot and I really enjoyed that,” she says. “I’m really not precious about my voice. I do love powerful, beautiful voices but on a creative level you can do so much with your voice and I loved pulling it around on this record. I mean, on “Doorway”, it’s my inner-trannie singing that one!”
One listen to W is all it takes to realise that Planningtorock is not tethered to the facts of Janine’s everyday life or to any kind of authentic or so-called honest voice. Planningtorock is about ideas and fantasy. It’s about emotion and exploring the unknown. This Bolton Wanderer will keep you wondering for quite some time.
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