Release Date: Oct 21, 2016
Record label: Relativity Entertainment
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Joan Wassar, aka Joan as Police Woman, is best known for her quirky vocal style and her past collaborations with experimental musicians such as Antony (Anohni), Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed. Multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis has worked in the more alternative-rock field with acts such as Okkervil River and Bridget Kearney. The two connected over Central African Republic Pygmy musical patterns after taking separate trips to Africa: Joan went to Ethiopia as part of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express, Lazar traveled to West Africa to study traditional music.
Let It Be You constitutes both the fifth album from Joan Wasser’s Joan as Police Woman and a debut for her collaboration with Benjamin Lazar Davis, which previously went by the name 2001. Since Wasser broke through as a solo artist a decade ago with the stunning Real Life her output has been consistently good and sometimes brilliant, though 2014’s The Classic is the weakest in a strong run, stretching for a sound that left its songs feeling over-stuffed and lacking the charm that records like To Survive hold in abundance. Through collaborating with fellow Brooklynite Davis, however, Wasser sounds entirely reinvigorated.
Joan As Police Woman’s debut record came out 10 years ago. Rather than pummel the seemingly endless ability she has to craft classy intensely emotional torch songs Joan Wasser has constantly side-stepped the obvious route, and Let It Be You is no exception. This time she has teamed up with multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis of Okkervil River, Cuddle Magic and Bridget Kearney.
On Let It Be You, Joan as Police Woman's Joan Wasser and Brooklyn musician Benjamin Lazar Davis -- who has worked with artists including Okkervil River, Cuddle Magic, Kimbra, and Luke Temple -- explore and update their love of African music. Separately, Wasser worked on Damon Albarn's Africa Express project in Ethiopia, while Davis traveled to West Africa as part of his studies of the region's traditional music at the New England Conservatory. Together, they draw on Central African Pygmy music's lively ostinatos -- musical motifs that repeat throughout a work -- incorporating them into breezy electro-pop with an insistent sensuality.
In their respective careers, singer-songwriter Joan Wasser (AKA Joan as Police Woman) and multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis have both flirted with pop accessibility while also keeping their distance. Of the two, Wasser has hewed closer to traditional pop forms, while Davis has taken a more academic approach with the chamber pop outfit Cuddle Magic. But on their first collaboration Let It Be You, Wasser and Davis indulge themselves, revealing a shared sweet tooth for bubblegum bombast that will likely shock each of their fanbases.
Ten years on from her acclaimed debut, Real Life, Joan Wasser isn’t afraid to go off script; 2010’s Cover saw the Brooklyn singer-songwriter mold her rich, distinctive vocals to songs including T.I.’s Whatever You Like, while on 2014’s The Classic she ventured into pop-soul a la Winehouse. Her latest release is an alt-pop experiment with fellow New Yorker Benjamin Lazar Davis, a multi-instrumentalist of lo-fi vocal style and minimal Google presence. Although there are snatches of Wasser circa Deep Field – most notably on Magic Lamp, which feels like a coda to The Magic in more than name – things are largely experimental.
As musicians, Joan Wasser - better known as Joan As Police Woman - and Benjamin Lazar Davis have always sought out unique individuals to collaborate with. Wasser has worked with everyone from Antony and the Johnsons to David Sylvian, while Davis still performs with Okkervil River and Cuddle Magic. But it was an unlikely source that brought the pair together: the musical patterns of Central African Republic Pygmies.
Despite her auspicious handle, Joan As Police Woman has managed to rack up a surprisingly successful career over the course of her five albums. Her resume includes sessions with Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed, David Sylvian, but it’s her backstory that’s of special note, a personal history that includes adoption, addiction and the death of her boyfriend, Jeff Buckley, at a time when both artists were coming to full flourish. Now, partnering with multi-instrumentalist and Okkervil River mainstay Benjamin Lazar Davis, she finds new inspiration in a selection of songs that combine a surprising optimistic attitude underscored by contemporary hip hop rhythms.