“Art music”: the term alone begs to have eyes rolled at it. All creativity is a form of expression, and the significance of art is definitively subjective, so how to classify it? Berlin’s Janine Rostron is a multi-faceted videographer, programmer and musician, having been classically trained at violin since age eight. Under the Planningtorock moniker, she has collaborated with electronic Swedes the Knife and has crafted a tiered performance personality, combining visual and recorded elements with costuming and video interplay, predating Lady Gaga by several years.
Having released a few EPs and one previous full-length, her latest, W, is a fuller, more complete work, despite its lack of complementary mediums. Rostron’s music is structured around creating a canvas, so her creative sensibilities do fit that appallingly pretentious moniker, making W is a sometimes choppy but fully engaging exploration of musical world-building.
The heavy influence of Rostron’s fundamentals is evident; opener “Doorway” begins with menacing, plucked strings which give way to a more menacing vocal refrain, sounding like some twisted Gregorian chant shit. This track transitions into the similarly structured “The One,” a unique little song, with its electric keyboard and stabbing synths segueing into Gerry Rafferty-esque saxophone bursts, which is as eclectic as it is inventive.
“Manifesto,” with its semi-squelchy keyboard tattoos, sounds swirly – a lot of the album carries a pretty haze to it, but this track in particular evokes an auditory fog, coming clean with blippy refrains at the end. Electronica/atmospheric music has the potential to be waylaid into background noise, but the diversity of instrumentation and the tempo and usage that Rostron employs across the album is commendable.
The zenith moment of this artistic variety comes on “I Am Your Man,” an up-tempo, clinky refrain featuring Rostron switching up gender with the ease that she switches up streams, singing despondently to a lover of her actual gender. Her voice breaks out of its comfort zone, taking on a higher, soul-influenced inflection. As she (or he, as the case may be) sings, “I don’t need a microphone to tell you what I’m really feeling for you/ That deep down feeling you know/ I let things out so I can put them back in,” it’s both a lyrically resonant moment and a rewarding pay-off to a bold experiment.
W is arranged with beats and shifting moments; each song feels like it has its own peak and trough, yet are part of a larger flux that’s yet to be revealed. “The Breaks” follows “I Am Your Man,” and with its refrain of, “I break too easily,” it feels almost like a direct response from the subject of the previous track. The haunting, encircling keyboards and the softened vocal levels gradually are turned up as the song progresses, feeling more and more like a once timid subject gathering the courage to say what’s on her mind.
Not to succumb to maudlin stylings, “Living It Out” features a funky hip-hop sensibility – this track practically begs to be sampled and chopped up. The percussion keeps equal time with the electronic lead, and at the end dips out as gradually as it dipped in, with the keys and drums and bass lines fading into a single keyboard line leitmotif, and then nothing. This song perhaps best captures the appeal of W – it grooves, it moves, but it finds itself reset by the end. The party is done, the living is outed, and now back to whence we came, for better or worse. People will still call art music “art music,” but W will stand as a solid reminder that as long as you’re doing what you want, it’s worth it.
by Rafael Gaitan