By Ryan Leas
With “The Deep Field,” Joan Wasser returns with her third album under the Joan as Police Womanmoniker in only four years. It’s refreshing to see an artist be so prolific in a time where it is more common for a band to take three years in between albums, and even more so considering the consistent strength of Wasser’s works despite their frequency. Joan as Police Woman has historically fused funk, r&b, ’70s and ’90s singer-songwriter styles and alternative into one unique sound. On “The Deep Field,” Joan as Police Woman largely dispenses with the piano-based personal ruminations, instead favoring band-oriented funk and soul. The music is just as evocative as before, perhaps even more so by the feeling that this is more of a group record than its predecessors.
The album starts off incredibly strong, immediately launching into the tension of the appropriately titled “Nervous.” An anxious guitar seethes under the entire track as Wasser’s constrained verse vocals cede to the smoothness of the chorus. The same instrumentation that made the verses feel tight and neurotic persists, buoyed by currents of sustained organ and then quieted by the mollifying quality of Wasser’s beautiful melody. Wasting no time, the album then offers up the mellow funk highlight of “Magic” and the stunning “Action Man.” Echoing the mood swings of the verse-chorus juxtaposition in “Nervous,” “Action Man” is built on two distinct parts. But also like the opening track, it’s not as if this shift is drastic or abrupt. Rather, the methodical pacing of the song pulls the listener along, suggesting something big is around the corner. And the song doesn’t disappoint, segueing into the transcendent yet still controlled coda, with Wasser’s gentle mantra “All I want to be” sliding away in the tide of the swaying violins and distant horns.
Such an opening salvo sets a high standard, and unfortunately “The Deep Field” does lose the plot a bit in its middle act. “Flash”is a spectral comedown from the euphoric conclusion to “Action Man,” which is fine — except it goes on a good three minutes too long. If there is one grievance to be leveled against “The Deep Field” in comparison to the other Joan as Police Woman albums, it would be that the songs aren’t always as necessarily well-tailored, with slow-burners like the swampy “Flash” or “Forever and a Year” sometimes dragging and hurting the flow of the album.
That’s not to suggest that “The Deep Field” is a front-loaded album. Situated after “Flash,” the excellent “Run For Love” features an infectious chorus augmented by a distorted keyboard line that effortlessly locks into the song’s powerful groove. And lest one was about to come away from the album dwelling on some of the less memorable moments, “The Deep Field” ends on a cathartic outburst that demands the listener’s attention, the more rock-oriented “Say Yes.” Combined with the dirtiness of “Nervous,” the final track bookends the album with related statements that differ from the mellow soul workouts that dominate “The Deep Field” in between.
“The Deep Field” is an album that is simultaneously earthy and otherworldly. Joan as Police Woman utilizes a muscular, rhythmically oriented production, but ghostly colors of guitar and airy keyboards weave between the cracks, giving the entire album an engagingly dichotomous character. Of course, Wasser’s distinctive voice ties the whole experience together, encapsulating both halves of the album’s personality with her ability to shift between smoky and soulful to detached and haunting within a measure. Though it could have used a bit more editing, “The Deep Field” is yet another impressive installment in Joan as Police Woman’s nascent-yet-already-accomplished career as band.