"Doorway," the first track, single, and general entry point to W, Planningtorock's first record for DFA, puts a key talking point front and center: Yes, this sounds an awful lot like The Knife. Janine Rostron, the UK-born artist who wrote all the material for and plays nearly every instrument on the album, has been a close collaborator with the Dreijer siblings for years, most recently as a billed co-author of their standoffish (yet, underrated) avant-garde Darwin opera Tomorrow, In a Year. So, you can argue that it's more of a shared aesthetic than a stylistic debt. But still, her voice, warped to that eerily specific Karin timbre, paired with those evilly creeping synths... It's undeniable. Which is not to say that it doesn't sound odd and great (this sound has some legs, for sure). Elsewhere she draws on other Knife-ish techniques, but with enough distinction that the effect isn't so alarmingly similar. The grand, operatic "The Breaks" uses synth hits simultaneously for melodic heft and propulsive rhythm as they might. And she shares the Knife/Fever Ray predilection for unnerving lyrics, dramatically trilling "Don't be surprised, I'm ripping out my eyes. I'm on fire." But even though it's theatrical, it sounds vaguely human (as opposed to a creepy robot just learning to feel). "Icy" isn't the overwhelmingly apt adjective.
As you dig deeper, the clammy disco DNA of W reveals itself (and makes perfect sense of Planingtorock's jump to DFA). A recent article in The Guardian claimed Rostron as the UK's answer to Grace Jones, and the comparison isn't as strange as it initially seems. W compares well to Jones' 1981 album Nightclubbing, specifically. Songs like "I Am Your Man" express a fierce, growling femininity, disorientingly couched in gender-bending expressions of masculine power. (To bring it a little closer to present day, it isn't miles off from the new tUnE-yArDs, either.) The included cover of Arthur Russell's "Janine" is another clue suggesting a deep infatuation with arty NYC disco. Russell's take was actually a modest and sad folkish number. Rostron's reimagining, coolly synthetic in instrumentation but typically over-the-top in treated vocal tone and delivery, changes the meaning of the line "Janine don't go with those guys," from head-shaking lament to backwards-looking self-correction. It fits this fun-house mirror of a record that its most recognizably personal statement should be couched in someone else's words, looking from the outside in, sounding slightly aghast.