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Deep Field (Digipack) Import
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The Deep Field
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.Label: PIAS RECORDINGS.Published: 2011/Na das fängt ja gut an .... Nachdem sich Joan as Police Woman mit ih
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.
A denser affair than 2008’s To Survive, it fizzes and bursts with plush instrumentation, augmenting her trademark keys with strings, horns and electric guitar in a manner that occasionally threatens to drown out her smooth delivery. Certainly, it doesn’t make much sense at first, lacking the impact of that album’s tear-stained confessionals or the sense of arrival that greeted debut set Real Life. But the ambition present reveals itself gradually, repeated listens opening up these long, sometimes languorous songs.
Wasser has always been far more interesting than a cursory listen to her records might suggest, the idiosyncratic banter of her live shows hinting at a strangeness that suits The Deep Field very well. Found-sound collages and studio chatter colour the album as it segues from one song to the next, rarely faltering. Lead single The Magic lopes along on a sleek riff that finds Wasser lost in a maze of her own making; The Action Man builds, builds and builds for the entirety of its five-minute run; Chemmie dwells on lust in sweet falsetto not a million miles away from Prince; I Was Everyone makes for a bracing finish; Forever and a Year is just gorgeous. Only Human Condition slows proceedings somewhat, an exercise in laid-back soul that veers a little too far towards the inconsequential.
But as a whole, The Deep Field nails it. True, the songs are long, it is almost ceaselessly rich, and you’re going to want to skip its first 30 seconds every time. Yet there is something fantastically indulgent and heartening going on here: the sense that Wasser is embracing her peculiarities and making giddy, ebullient light of them. Long may she continue to do so.
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Her sparse debut, Real Life, introduced her fractured confidence with aplomb. Its follow up, To Survive, was an understandably more mute offering that focused on her mother's death for inspiration. The Deep Field is noticeably less introspective. Wasser's choice of artwork confirms it, her fleshed out compositions too.
As a consequence, fewer of her trademark, melancholic piano ballads pepper the running order - "Forever And A Year" is a noteworthy, organ-filled exception from where the album's title comes. Yet, as Wasser's fragility was also often her strength, what then to make of The Deep Field?
Though the Joan As Police Woman sound of now appears to look backwards for reference, back to a time when "easy listening" wasn't a dirty classification, this third original outing is nevertheless an evolution for Wasser, a regaining of confidence as the groove-laden, crowd-splitting "Human Condition" potentially shows. What's certain is that the track is as unabashedly erotic as Wasser has ever been, soulfully playing off against slap bass, as well as her regular contributor Joseph Arthur and his best Mark Lanegan-style vocal impression.
Apparently then now back in love, we can forgive Wasser the occasional mistread. For, even if it doesn't all work for all listeners ("Nervous" seems little more than a synth-y, echoing amble), at least she's trying to break out from within her own brackets. For example, "Chemmie" and its 70s electric-funk/soul has grand, nearly-fulfilled allusions of Diana Ross collaborating with Stevie Wonder - something unexpected to say the least from Wasser.
Elsewhere, the funk on "The Magic" is likeably memorable, and "Flash" is an accomplised, eight-minute exercise in odd harmonies that allow the experimental vocoding in "Run For Love" to pass unnoticed in comparison.
Overall, The Deep Field is unquestionably smooth. Yet, it could be said that it's the skilful combination of its disparate elements that allow it to be so. Though benefit of the doubt permits the album to stay happily afloat, Wasser may have to pack a few more emotional punches to remain so in future.
five or six years now with both interest and admiration.
It was quite clear early on that she was not born to
play second fiddle to Rufus Wainwright (although the
first time I encountered her she was doing exactly that!)
She has grown in confidence and maturity as both writer
and performer and increasingly inhabits a distinctive
and self-determinate space in the listening world.
Ms Wasser's left-field vision, however, is forever likely
to keep her well away from the middle of the road and the
sequins, pearls and other trappings mainstream recognition.
Her third album is a fine piece of work. In the ten songs
comprising this new collection we find her looking away
from the suave interiority of her wonderful 2008 recording
'To Survive' and backwards over her shoulder to her first,
eponymously titled, EP. The sound is grittier and earthier
than we have come to know and utilises a rock-oriented ensemble
to beef up the full-bodied arrangements. That Ms Wasser comes
on like a pagan priestess in the cover photography seems
entirely correct. Part Earth Mother, part Boedicea she rules
the musical forces with which she has surrounded herself!
The majority of the compositions are very good indeed.
Opening track 'Nervous' is one of her most exciting ideas to date.
Ms Wasser's idiosyncratic mewling nasal drawl has rarely sounded
better. It is a song which twists and turns in a delightfully
unpredictable way. The guitars chug and howl, the Hammond warbles
and splutters and the drums pump and splat along merrily behind her.
The concluding jam is an absolute riot!
'The Magic' is a funky little number full of soulful spirit.
The vocal dances in and out of the beats as free as a bird.
'Flash' is a more subdued and reflective number. A nocturnal
piece with shadows hovering at the edge of a firelit clearing.
The mournful repeated incantation is a ghost, half-heard and
perhaps half-seen, at the limits of Ms Wasser's field of vision.
A hauntingly beautiful invention.
'Human Condition', however, is a deeply flawed arrangement.
What might have been one of the album's finest moments is
sadly marred by the song's title being gutterally intoned over
and over and over again by a supporting male vocalist with
a voice like the man from the 1970's Seiko watch adverts.
'Forever and A Year' pulls things back on track convincingly.
A tender and deeply affecting composition sung with understated
breathy gravitas by Ms Wasser at the top of her game. Sublime.
'The Deep Field' is a very strong album. I hope it wins its creator
lots of new friends. Joan As Police Woman is a rare confection.
(The packaging, on the other hand, is totally dreadful. Yet another
of those too-tight, flimsy cardboard sleeves which rip apart as soon as
you try to remove the contents! The photography, however, is stunning!!)
Using the sound space to create effects which compliment the songs is nothing new, nor is the use of environmental found sound material but the whole feels very dynamic.
Much the same reaction occurred listening to the songs, where nothing sounds directly innovative but which show the influence from across a broad spectrum of genre as few artists have either the knowledge or skill to bring off.
The Blues, Motown, Philadelphia Soul, experimental rock and much from the great mavericks of American modernism are incorporated into a rare, uniquely personal style which is reverentially applied to songs of great sensitivity and allure.
This is a truly great recording.
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