"I knew music was my way out/A way to learn and understand my life," Jam Rostron sings on Powerhouse, hitting home the feeling that their music comes full circle on Planningtorock's fourth album. Since the beginning, there's been a therapeutic quality to the way Planningtorock's avant-garde electropop reflected Rostron's musical and personal identity: the title of 2006's debut album, Have It All, hinted at the inclusivity they stated more directly on 2014's All Love's Legal, where they first expressed their non-binary status in their music. On Have It All, Rostron mapped out their escape from the confines of Bolton, England to the cultural mecca of Berlin; for a long time, it seemed they would never look back. However, they do just that on Powerhouse, a title that also carries significance. By making peace with the past, Rostron finds strength within songs that celebrate their family and music's ability to transform, connect, and heal people.
Musically, the album picks up where All Love's Legal left off, pairing stark but versatile synths and beats with pitch-shifted vocals. But where that album delivered manifestos, Powerhouse gives listeners rich, specific glimpses that are even more relatable. When they sing "I'm a lot of more" on the brilliant Olof Dreijer collaboration "Much to Touch," it resonates with anyone who's been judged too needy, too demanding, or just too much by a lover. As Rostron fills every moment of Powerhouse with life, emotion, and sensuality, their dedication to queering music remains. The beats slide, groove, and skip in ways that borrow equally from the club and avant-garde choreography on the fizzing "Jam of Finland" and the driving "Non Binary Femme," a pair of dance workouts that complement each other with opposing – but equally compelling – approaches to rhythm.
This dedication to movement fuels Powerhouse's emotional recovery, whether Rostron embraces previous hurts like old friends on "Wounds," lets the forgiveness in their vocalizing flow like tears on "Dear Brother," or allows the brisk tempo of "Somethings More Painful Than Others" to carry them past their pain. Fortunately, there's also plenty of pleasure to be found on Powerhouse. "Transome" is Planningtorock's sexiest song yet, a slinky celebration of trans and non-binary sex appeal where Rostron's voice slides from high to low as they sing "kissing my genders in our bedroom light." Their tributes to their family are among the album's other highlights. The radiant title track pays homage to Rostron's indomitable mother, but Powerhouse's single most joyful moment is "Beulah Loves Dancing," in which Rostron's sister dances to house music so energetically that the family home shakes. Like the rest of the album, it's an utterly captivating musical memoir. By combining the autobiographical perspective of their earliest work with the flexible sounds of their later albums, Powerhouse showcases the entire scope of Planningtorock's music – and the results are moving in more ways than one.
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