Damned Devotion by Joan As Police WomanRelease date: February 9, 2018
Label: Play It Again Sam
Damned Devotion is the pertinent title of the new album from Joan As Police Woman, aka Connecticut’s Joan Wasser. Following on from 2016’s, Let It Be You, 2014’s The Classic, 2011’s The Deep Field, 2008’s To Survive and her debut Real Life from 2006, this is a smooth collection of soulful, jazzy electro flourished tunes. It was as support for Rufus Wainwright (she was also in his touring band) that Joan came to my attention around the time of her debut album and I’ve subsequently snapped up most of her work since, but I must admit, her music has never truly stayed with me, but that’s not down to any issues with the quality of her work.
Joan played a solo show in Belfast Empire, just her and a piano and it was captivating. Her in-between song banter and audience engagement made for an intimate experience and she is an outstanding artist deserving of a wider audience. Perhaps Damned Devotion will be the album to break through for her. Album opener ‘Wonderful’ strikes up with icy toned keys and a deep thud of an electro bass drum. Jazzy laid back bass wobbles the speakers and Joan delivers a typically smooth vocal while a myriad of backing singers enhance the track. As the percussion picks up to add a little urgency to the chilled groove, shimmering keys make for a languid and luxurious listening experience.
Next comes ‘Warning Bell’ featuring some speaker trembling bass combined with delicate shuffling drums and lush keyboards and piano. Much like her cohort Rufus Wainwright, Joan has an eloquent way with complex melody that brilliantly confuses initially before becoming perfectly naturally flowing and memorable after repeated plays. Sumptuous searing keys end the track with a warmth and comforting glow. ‘Tell Me’ is a playful and cheeky track that twitches with a skipping beat and keyboards that refuse to settle. I get the feeling many hours were spent plotting out the backing track to not just this song, but the entire album. The bridge allows Joan to get all soulful and the track ends with some jazzy electronics that in another artist’s hands, would probably offend my ears.
Joan playfully teases out a falsetto (is there such a thing with a female vocalist?) vocal over a sharp and snappy electronic groove on ‘Steed (for Jean Genet)’. Back in the day Prince would very much have endorsed this kind of groove. What the track lacks in memorable melody it very much makes up for in sexy attitude with an ending of splendid wheezing brass instrumentation. On title track ‘Damned Devotion’ the drum machine pumps like a well-oiled machine and when the chorus rises up it sends chills down your spine but is equally warm and embracing due to a deep bass hum. It feels like being hugged by half a dozen grizzly bears while listening to the band of the same name’s finest moments.
‘The Silence’ is resplendent with a drum groove that is prime era Prince, which collides with spidery pianos and funky weird keyboard sounds. The unfortunate consequence of this excellence means there’s a reduction in memorable hooks and the track is the weaker for that. On the curiously titled ‘Valid Jagger’ the drum machine enters full-on King of Limbs idiocy with an impossible timing and switching of time signatures. The combination of voices intertwining and shimmering keys is an aural delight but once again, melody suffers in favour of the atmospherics. Mind you, when the ‘Las Palabras de Amor’ keyboards swing in near the end it is just sublime.
‘Rely On’ is another Prince-like number that drips with sex appeal, the mix of slippery electro beats, throbbing bass hum and slinky falsetto vocals leaves you feeling just a little bit blissed, for want of a better word. ‘Silly Me’ has a pulsing piston beat and gently strummed acoustic guitar duel with a lovely floaty organ. Joan delivers a lazy yet beguiling vocal and it’s a good recovery after the fairly non-descript ‘What Was It Like?’ and ‘Talk About It Later’ which just didn’t hold my attention. The album closes with ‘I Don’t Mind’, a swirling soul number with a quirky, heavily distorted and barely there beat providing the backdrop to another one of those wandering vocals that Joan is so capable of. It’s her superb voice that stitches the whole track together as the instrumentation on its own is so odd and out there it wouldn’t be anything remotely memorable only for her wraparound melodies.
There’s a quote from Joan that accompanies the press release for Damned Devotion which ties in with the album’s title. In saying “I just want to be making music all the time. I can comfortably say that music has saved my life and continues to save my life. I am a devotee. It’s not something I can even choose or not choose, it’s just what is.”, Joan succinctly sums up the type of artist she is. When you listen to her music you can hear the attention to detail combined with a real heartfelt passion. Damned Devotion is a very warm and embracing album of quality songs.