I simply don't believe that Janine Rostron is genuinely planning to rock. Considering an awkward shuffling dance? Maybe. Contemplating nodding her head gently to some left-field sounds? Sure, it could happen. Planning to rock? Never. The Bolton-born experimental musician could hardly have picked a less appropriate band name. The tracks collected on her latest album, W, are uncompromising, difficult pieces of music; they're songs best listened to alone, on headphones; they should be brooded over and dissected. This isn't music you want to hear with others.
W is being released on DFA, the record label co-founded by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. It's a real detour for a label, who've tended to specialise in hip, accessible, beats-based music. W isn't especially hip, it isn't accessible, and although it does feature electronic beats, it couldn't reasonably be described as beats-based. The core of the music is, instead, formed by Rostron's distinctive synthesised sounds, her string arrangements and her distinctive, frequently processed vocals. Her voice bears comparison to that of Karin Dreijer Andersson, one half of celebrated electronic duo The Knife, and Andersson's solo work is one obvious touchstone here. Like Andersson, Rostron manages to sound at once forbidding and warm. Her voice is full and rich, and she relishes her vocal delivery, launching full-bloodedly into each note.
At her most sonorous, Rostron sounds oddly masculine. It's possible that this inspired her vocal turn on 'I Am Your Man', which casually plays with gender roles: 'You know I am your man' she croons over Devo-esque synthesisers. 'I Am Your Man' is followed by the album's peak, 'The Breaks', a slow-burning ballad which is both soulful and stern. 'Don't be surprised/if I'm ripping out my eyes' begins Rostron, uncompromisingly; as synths screech and wheel over the patter of electronic drums, her vocals soar. 'We break too easily', she mourns.
There are other highlights, like the spiky crawl of opening track 'Doorway', driven by a relentless synth line. Fractured electro-pop effort 'Manifesto' flirts with catchiness, but that isn't a word which could be used to describe the rest of the album. This is difficult music, head music, and it takes time to settle in the listener's mind. It's a grower. If you enjoy dark electronic music, however, your initial patience will be rewarded.