Friday, May 30, 2008

to survive by joan as police woman

Every time I listen to Joan as Police Woman (née Joan Wasser), I feel like I owe her a personal apology for not falling in love with her sultry piano driven music at first introduction. There's a laundry list of excuses: she was an opener standing between me and Rufus Wainwright (a poor decision by any standard), I was tired, the room was too crowded, her attempts at introducing herself in French seemed more like a calculated attempt at cuteness than sincerity...say what you want, but the truth? It wasn't you Joan, it was me. And I just wasn't impressed. What makes this all the more painful is that said dubious first introduction took place in Paris, the city of sultry, emotional music and, ya know, love. So much for embracing the spirit of my environment. Fail. Or rather, échoue. That all changed last year of course, with a well-placed track on KCRW and a dark, partially empty small club show, thus proving that sometimes all it takes is a second listen. Or proving I'm a hipster-snob in geek's clothing. Really, take your pick.

Joan as Police Woman is back with her second act, To Survive (out June 10th). Beauty is the new punk rock...or at least according to her myspace. This time around, there isn't quite such a dramatic separation between the two. We've yet to be treated to a Dambuilders redux, but this time Joan's punk roots do stick out a hair more than the smoking lounge-ready Real Life. The electric guitar riffs and vocal tics have been left unsanded over her now trademark jazz-piano and all consuming voice - an instrument that could stand out above pretty much anything. Amidst the still beautiful instrumentation (albeit a hair over-produced in places), there's a touch of calculated hardness, rising to the surface on the dissent-charged track "Furious." Overall, the contrast makes for a bit of a disconcerting listen, but given the thematic topics - the death of her mother and memories of her cult-hero boyfriend Jeff Buckley - it's a dichotomy that, like Joan herself, deserves a second and third listen.

Sadness isn't the only emotion up for exploration. Joan's mission statement for this album being "I want to be courageous enough to feel and express as much as possible and that means all the emotions," she takes what what might be her first stab at a happy song - the optimistic, after the storm, horn-driven "Magpies." Yes, she references the brief life of her namesake St. Joan, but it's all about heading to the voice in this life. Okay maybe not a tribute to outright optimism, but JAPW is nothing if not a study in contrasts.

And though our first meeting was somewhat fortuitous (although one imagines it was the tour rather than my presence that brought this around...back narcissism, back!), Rufus Wainwright is back dueting with Joan in the decidedly non-punk album closer "To America." Starting with instrumentation stripped down to a single piano and horn somewhere in the distance, their falsettos morn a nation of lost promises and a distant love affair, raising to a painful battle cry, complete with, once again, a rough guitar line. The mournful duet climaxes with a full band and the sound of distant fireworks. Oh my...does that sound like the description of a fangirl? I guess first impressions can be deceiving.

(photo Joan As Police Woman: Shane Van Lunteren)

mp3: "To Be Loved" by Joan As Police Woman
mp3: "The Ride (live)" by Joan As Police Woman, originally from the the album Real Life

1 comment:

MRM said...

My case was meeting Joan through Jeff Buckley, and then meeting Rufus through Joan, despite i knew him already (even i was one of his concerts) but Joan kind of pushed me to DEVORATE his discography :)

Joan is pure sensivity.