Joan as Police Woman

The Deep Field

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Label: Play It Again Sam

Here are two comparisons I never expected to make: at various points on The Deep Field, Joan Wasser sounds like the Dirty Projectors or the Flight of the Conchords. Though her sound remains recognizable, she attempts to move out of the singer-songwriter zone, with some success. Is this a metaphor for her entire third album as Joan as Police Woman? Flashes of astructural brilliance in stark relief aside some cheesy genre aping? To lay too heavily on the latter is unfair to Wasser and her band. Their sound on this album is unlike any they’ve played before; certainly no one could accuse them of resting on their laurels. For a songwriter known more for ballads than bravado, Wasser’s band is surprisingly successful at giving rock and R&B edges to songs like “Nervous” and “Human Condition”. Though not exactly cutting-edge, the band plays competently in a variety of styles.

Wasser’s songcraft shines on the easy jazz of “Kiss the Specifics”. It is best suited to her casual relationship with tempo and quicksilver voice, and its restraint simply highlights the silliness of other songs. “Flash” drags on for far too long in spite of its title, with Wasser wailing, “I had a flash” over guitar arpeggios effected by reverb so woozy it would make a Brooklyn hipster swoon.

Her first single, “Magic,” intrigues even though its chorus sounds almost note-for-note like the Flight of the Conchords’ “Mutha’uckers.” The song is catchy and understated. Wasser’s lyrics ring truest when she is self-reflective. I genuinely believe that she’s fighting her own instincts when she sings, “I wonder if the wild animals in me/ Will they ever find freedom?/ All I fear is what I fear/ Am I a leviathan?” The drums and synthesizers are clean and crisp, pushing the song into a pop territory Wasser may never have explored before.

The dominant theme throughout the album is seduction, whether she’s wondering, “Why don’t we make love?” on “Run for Love” or driving at genuine attraction in the most cringe-inducing manner, as on “Chemmie.” That title is, of course, a youthful “abbrev” for “chemistry,” and although the tune is a fun, horn-bolstered R&B track, the awful line, “We got chemmie,” makes a mature, respected songwriter sound downright juvenile.

Wasser’s greatest misstep involves the backing vocals throughout the album. Whispering the song titles over and over adds little. In fact they often distract from her consistently beautiful vocal performances. When they are capably managed, like the gospel singers at the climax of closing track “I Was Everyone,” the songs improve drastically. There’s motion and feeling behind that song that is lacking on others. It’s as if Wasser and her producers didn’t know what else to do with them, but had already paid the singers and wanted to get something for their money. The results are often cheesy and largely unnecessary.

I’m not averse to feeling bliss/ I quite enjoy it,” she sings on “Nervous,” and Joan as Police Woman proves it to us in the alternately exquisite and agonizing 10 tracks that comprise this album.

by Katie Bolton

Key Tracks: Magic, Flash, I Was Everyone

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