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To Survive by Joan As Police Woman

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Reviewed on 21st July 2008.


To Survive

By Joan As Police Woman

Superbly serene yet gregariously graceful, the second album from Joan Wasser and Co. is a magnificent exercise in chamber-pop intricacy. Opener 'Honor Wishes', a chunky piano-led plod of cerebral and jazzy propensities, is a most appropriate and fully comprehensive introduction to the ten tracks that follow, with their resoundingly emotive and evocative arrangements. 'To Be Loved' is a finely executed exercise in happy-clappy lovesong, but is so absolutely inoffensive, it unfortunately comes too close to the lounge-jazz, coffee table swill of Norah Jones or something equally derivative. Consecutive pair 'To Be Lonely' has vastly more value. A slow and considered exposition of wistful desire, with superb touches of low end backing vocal hums, willowy strings, and chromatically arresting, augmented chord choices worthy of Debussy or some other aquatically obsessed impressionistic great. Wasser lays herself bare here with naked and, true to her name, watery-eyed splendour. There is something seriously addictive in the paradoxically vulnerable yet resolute nature of the music, the fantastic sincerity of which provides a welcome antidote to the self-obsessed, self-perpetuating tabloid mythmaking of other more mainstream 'soulful' pop singers. Each track has magical and determined vocal delivery, delicate but never brittle, Wasser's tremulous tones always acutely affecting - particularly so in the case of 'Start of My Heart', a fragile, soul-searching, reflective foray into a sea of sorrowful synths and nodding bass, sounding like a slow-paced and minimal, less dance floor friendly The Knife.

But Joan As Police Woman aren't limited to mere introspection and broody navel-gazing alone. Meandering vocal melodies and mischievous leaps from the forever playful backing band abound, much like the syncopated range of Joni Mitchell with zany turned down a notch. In fact, the more up beat, propulsive tracks such as 'Holiday' and 'Hard White Wall' have some fantastically Mitchell-esque business to the arrangements, with splutters of keys and guitars, and backing vocal trysts, in addition to making use of cyclical strummed chord changes to give a vibrant thrust to proceedings. 'Furious' with its pulsing interplay of undulating keys and restless percussion possesses some of the mean rawness of a PJ Harvey rant, while still having the intricacy of production and thoughtfulness of arrangement that is a hallmark of this album. The idiosyncratic march of closer 'To America', after an introspective start of nude piano and voice, ends up sounding like a less otherworldly Joanna Newsom backed by a Beirut-style Eastern European horn band. The song perfectly enjoys the apposite appearance of Rufus Wainwright, with his theatrically sombre and melancholy earnestness sharing in vocal duties.

Frail yet sonorous, swelling with the intensity of blossoming spring and declining autumnal hues, 'To Survive' has huge wealth in it's depth of expression, resplendent with ruminative heartache and deeply authentic, emotive examinations of loss and longing. It's not only a great follow up to fantastic debut effort 'Real Life', but a genuine and inspiring musical achievement.



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