- Confident queer pop from a gifted songwriter.
- In October, a New York Times report revealed the Trump administration's plan to narrow the definition of gender as biological, denying the lived experience of millions of people who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Public outcry immediately followed. At rallies, on social media and even during the World Series, pink and blue banners carried the message: Trans People Won't Be Erased. This lent a timely significance to Powerhouse, the latest album by Jam Rostron, which came out on DFA a few weeks later. As Planningtorock, the Berlin-based artist, who chooses the pronoun "they," makes their genderqueer identity as visible as possible. Their past track titles—"Misogyny Drop Dead," "Patriarchy Over & Out" and "Let's Talk About Gender Baby"—are just as clear as the "Won't Be Erased" slogan. Rostron has exhibited this defiance through their work for the past decade.
What makes Rostron unique is how they bake such messages into the pleasures of commercial pop. Their sense of groove and melody has become tighter over the years, starting out with eccentric art-pop and ending up closer to radio hits. Powerhouse makes this clearer than ever. Here, Rostron crafts earworms in glowing atmospheres, ornamented with glints of piano and strings. The dance tracks are stripped back and strutting. At its catchiest, the album sounds like something from the pop charts. The opening hook on "Transome," for example, is just a few notes away from "You Remind Me" by Usher. "Somethings More Painful Than Others," a warm and slick deep house tune, has as much poolside potential as "Get It Together" by Drake and Black Coffee. Now just replace gab about picking up women with meaningful lyrical content.
In their lyrics, Rostron takes pride in their genderqueer identity, turning complex topics into nimble pop hooks. The writing is fun not philosophical, cheeky but self-aware, and generally makes for good singalongs. (If you've ever belted out "Umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh," now try "Non-binary femme.") On love—the driver of any good pop album—Rostron speaks from a position of sexual confidence at a time when conservatives have written off trans and queer preferences as simply confused. "Baby I want you to know / that I feel transome," Rostron sings across a swaggery beat. On "Much To Touch," an addictive groover co-produced by Olof Dreijer (formerly of The Knife), the topic is hooking up with emotional hesitation: "I'm a touch too much / I'm much to touch." Anyone, no matter where they stand on the spectrums of gender and sexuality, can relate. That's what makes good pop.
Other parts of Powerhouse belong solely to Rostron. These are songs about their family, stories of trauma, childhood and emotional release. They add a striking sense of vulnerability and depth. "Dear Brother," written to Rostron's deceased sibling, cradles a dark memory in plush pads and fluttering melodies. "Beulah Loves Dancing" puts a sweet monologue over a funky instrumental to pay tribute to Rostron's late father. The title track, which closes the album, is a slow, beautiful piece for their mother. On Powerhouse, we learn many things about Rostron. Few artists can express their politics and personal life so directly.
03. Dear Brother
04. Somethings More Painful Than Others
05. Much To Touch
06. Jam Of Finland
07. Non Binary Femme
08. Piece Of My Mind
09. Beulah Loves Dancing
10. Power House