Joan As Police Woman - The Deep Field

Honest, unabashed and straight from the heart.

Rating: 8

It seems that 2011 is set to be dominated by female artists and singers, at least in terms of label promotion and exposure. As well as Jessie J winning the BBC’s Sound of 2011 and the likes of Anna Calvi and Clare Maguire getting the taste makers frothing at the mouth, lesser lights (but no less feisty) such as Yasmin, Florrie, and Spark have got the blogosphere buzzing and the sharks circling. Of course, we’ve been here before – remember Little Boots, Rox, or Marina & The Diamonds? – but this time the fad has reached critical mass and seems set to sweep all before it.

I only mention this as Joan As Police Woman, aka Joan Wasser, started out way back in the pre-Florence and Lily days of 2006, when the musical landscape was vastly different. Suffice to say, not being a hard partying, six-foot Goddess with flame-red hair or a mouthy, self-styled chronicler of Generation Z with a famous Dad, she somewhat slipped under the radar despite being infinitely more talented. Fitting then that this year sees her return with album no.3, and some of her best work to date.

Fans should be aware that the haunting, fragile nature of both ‘Real Life’ and ‘To Survive’ and the sparseness of her compositions have been in part done away with. It’s not Dylan going electric, but her songs are suddenly more expansive, and “fuller”, not least in length. She also seems far more confident in her use of an ever growing sonic palette. Opener ‘Nervous’ and ‘Run For Love’ have an underlying groove running through them, whereas ‘Human Condition’ and ‘The Action Man’ have a more soulful vibe, the former even employing some slap bass and Barry White-style backing vocals. ‘Kiss The Specifics’ has a hint of swing and a deep brass interlude, while slow, white funk raises its head on ‘The Magic’.

That’s not to say the album is in any way slapdash or scattergun. In trying something a little different, she’s avoided the pitfall of sounding like a musical magpie, cherry picking the good bits from everywhere and anywhere. Nothing here sounds incongruous, and by keeping a tight rein on production, she’s made a coherent, yet diverse record. Running through it all is a dark and menacing air, a feeling which sometimes simply simmers along in the background. It’s present in the organs of ‘Forever And A Year’, in the vocoder distortion of ‘Run For Love’, and in the swirling, echoey guitar solo which closes ‘Nervous’. It’s front and centre however in ‘Flash’, eight minutes of moody yet intimate musings complete with Kid A-esque pro tools frippery, which threatens to explode but never does, content to simply brood in the shadows. Above all it’s present in her main weapon; that voice. Fragile yet powerful, capable of hinting at inner turmoil or sassy put downs, it’s what marks her out from her peers. I’ve yet to hear one of the new breed of poppets go from whisper light, girlish trills to seductive crooning with quite such mastery.

It’s also significant that this time, there are no guest artists, no famous friends helping out or lending their recognition. This is all Joan; honest, unabashed and straight from the heart. Having escaped from the shadow of Jeff Buckley, and the tragic death of her mother which so informed ‘To Survive’, ‘The Deep Field’ sees her finding her feet and her confidence, both as a woman and an artist. Essentially, her source material hasn’t changed, only the angle from which she considers it. Having previously lamented how “I can’t be the lighter of your eternal flame” and “you chained and taught me”, she now has the courage to declare “Oh my lover let me tell you / Now I’m ready to heal, now I’m ready to kneel” or “Ain’t we talked enough already? / Don’t you want to be the action man?” Never a shrinking violet, her lyrics seem much more empowered, the words of a woman finally comfortable with her place in life. When you happen to see some bikini-clad starlet on the cover of Grazia, or providing the latest two minute jingle for some reality show, remember, there is an alternative. And Joan Wasser is one of those proudly leading the way.