Planningtorock, whose music is so mysterious and compelling that it’s preferable not to mention her day-to-day name in reviews, has always summoned an androgynous and otherworldy, brooding beauty. The percussive crunch, eerie loops, cat cries and orchestral flourishes that make up the instrumental “Black Thumber” on W are a testament to her unearthly musical prowess. Though the multi-instrumentalist/singer/producer has become a bit more dance-driven since 2006′s Have It All, especially on songs that belie a pop side like “Living It Up” or “Manifesto”, Planningtorock remains at the top of the class when it comes to experimental, fantastical and emotional music. Ominous, pulsating synths open “Doorway”, and combined with the twangy, dusty Old West guitars and pitch-twisted vocals that she’s said were a way to “release her inner trannie,” it’s a showstopping opener. “9″, then, is the grand finale, bringing it all down with throbbing dancefloor beats and empowered, layered vocals that ring “we never want to go home” with a sort of bittersweet, beautiful challenge. “The Breaks”, one of the album’s dramatic hits, has a vocal sensibility that recalls the omniscient, omnipotent Grace Jones, but with a chorus that repeats, “I break too easily”, there’s a revealing duality that’s also one of Planningtorock’s many strengths: playing with gender identity on all levels. “I Am Your Man” brings on the fun in a disco sex swap of sorts. The year has barely reached the halfway mark, but I’m pretty sure W will near the top of my “best of” list for 2011. (DFA)