Apr 222011


The new Joan As Police Woman record is indulgent, disgustingly ambitious, pointedly avant-garde, overly ornate, overwrought, over packed and over long. It’s also damn good.

The Deep Field marks album no. 3 for Joan As Police Woman (real name Joan Wasser), and it’s a slow-burning, stubborn affair. In its textured sonics, the former protégé and lover of one Jeff Buckley (everybody here wants her, you see) aims to recapture the spirit and ethos of classic soul. It’s a marked departure from her previous records in terms of both production values as well as lyrical content.  Avid fans will notice the denser sound straight from opening number Nervous, which aims for a fractured, uneasy soundscape by way of a thick Rhodes offensive. Similarly, sassy first single Magic, a seductive funk-jazz affair, is easily the most radio-friendly song on the record, though the eclectic synthesizer touches still put it far out of top 40 territory.

Nevertheless, although Wasser proudly declares The Deep Field to be her most “joyous” record, the description still belies a certain defiant lack of immediacy that characterizes the album. Long on mood and texture and short on melodic hooks, The Deep Field is an exhausting, challenging love affair—the sort that stretches you to your limits and tests your patience, only to reel you back in with the kiss on your shoulder Jeff Buckley so longed for, the sort of midnight eroticism like that which burns on tracks like Action Man and Run For Love. 

There are no radio hits here; where a pop piano hook might belong on an Adele record exists instead slinky, rhythmically sophisticated grooves that draw you in like fine perfume. Likewise, where her contemporaries like Adele would belt a dramatic heart wrenching chorus, Wasser opts for a sultry, delicately phrased and controlled whisper that somehow manages to pack an even more emotional punch. Listen, for example, to the way Wasser paints a devastating, magnetic delivery on the canvas of Flash, an epic eight minute soundscape that wouldn’t be out of place on Kid A….”Oh my lover let me tell you now, all the things that I feel/I already cried a river so deep/Now I’m ready to heal/Now I’m ready to kneel. ”

Other tracks shine upon repeated listens: Kiss The Specifics is a lovely, Cat Power-ish crack of daylight in a subterranean ceiling. Run For Love sees Wasser escaping into rapture and surrender ala Mary Margaret O’ Hara on Help Me Lift You Up. Album closer I Was Everyone ends with an energetic gospel jam in church.

The Deep Field, then, is not an album for the casual or lazy listener—like a temperamental lover, the record demands your attention and focus, unfiltered and undiluted, requiring worship without any false idols before the goddess. As it builds out of silence and darkness into epiphany and light, however, it does eventually reward you with what the press release promises: joy.

So ignore, if you will, the long list of adjectives in the opening paragraph of this review. Just know that it’s damn good. Damn good indeed.

(Samuel C Wee)

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