Release Date: Apr 12, 2011
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Joan Wasser’s debut album - Real Life - opened with her standing in line at the post office, idly daydreaming of taking love for all that it’s worth, and resolving to be open more about her feelings by naming the object of her affection in the lyrics. At a live performance from around this time she confided to her audience that the man in question – Jonathan - had given the song she publicly dedicated to him a lukewarm reception and nothing had come of it. Her fingers may have been burned but her new album is informed by the same emotional honesty and directness that drove her earlier work; the conviction that when it comes to love, you should travel as the crow flies, rather than waste time going around the houses.
Despite taking her cues from Sixties soul, while adding a more punkish contemporary ethic, Joan As Police Woman has a legitimate claim to occupy a unique space. Joan Wasser’s alter ego has been too avant garde to be claimed by a mainstream soul crowd; she’s not scuffy or guitar-driven enough to be fawned over by indie kids. So, stuck in between the two camps, she just gets on with making timeless, affecting records.
Joan Wasser has the pedigree. The classical training, the romance with Jeff Buckley, the work with everyone from Lou Reed to Rufus Wainwright to Antony and the Johnsons. It could be these disparate attachments that make it seem so difficult for critics to classify her. Is she a bluesy chanteuse with attitude, ala PJ Harvey? A singer-songwriter extraordinaire, ready to break through to Adult Contemporary radio at any moment, ala Feist? An underground rocker with a subtle bent toward experimentation and noisy edges, ala Mary Timony? All, or none, of the above? Whichever bulbs flash in your brain as you listen to Wasser’s music and try to spot her influences, she proves herself a captivating voice and pleasantly eclectic composer.
Joan Wasser's first Joan as Police Woman album, Real Life, mourned the loss of her lover, Jeff Buckley, while her second, To Survive, mourned the loss of her mother. The Deep Field, however, finds her alone but not lonely, still searching for something and finding beauty and even happiness, if not answers. Wasser reunited with producer Bryce Goggin for this set of songs, but the guests that popped up on her previous albums are notably absent, as is much of the sadness that made Real Life and To Survive as wrenching as they were compelling.
Joan Wasser's 2008 album To Survive was a sombre, insular record that dealt, in harrowing detail, with the passing of her mother. Its follow-up, The Deep Field – with a title referencing distant clusters of stars and cover art that's more open and welcoming – is her self-described "joyous record". Gone, for the most part, are the haunting piano ballads, and in their place are looser musical expositions that display her deft songcraft.
Unlike Joan Wasser's first two efforts as Police Woman, The Deep Field doesn't feature any CD-sticker-worthy cameos from folks like Rufus Wainwright or Antony Hegarty. That's not to disparage her current collection of collaborators, which includes former Shudder to Think guitarist Nathan Larson and troubador Joseph Arthur, as well as producer Bryce Goggin, the go-to guy for most of Matador Records' mid-90s output. You still get the sense she's trying to make the type of mature and sophisticated pop music that can stand comfortably with these and other like-minded contemporaries.
There is something fantastically indulgent and heartening going on here. James Skinner 2011 The Deep Field opens with a song called Nervous, wherein a tribal field recording yields to squalls of guitar, an airy drumbeat and Joan Wasser’s declaration of "I want you to fall in love with me". It is an assured, confident start – indeed, it is anything but nervous – that sets the scene perfectly for what Wasser has called her "most open, joyous" record to date: a flawed, fascinating piece of work that takes its title from a distant pocket of space and concerns itself with love and impulsiveness amid countless aspects of contemporary life.