Joan as Police Woman

Damned Devotion

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Joan as Police Woman's Damned Devotion arrived not long after Let It Be You, a collaboration with Benjamin Lazar Davis that transformed the melodic motifs of Central African Pygmy music into some of the poppiest songs of Joan Wasser's career. It feels like some of that directness rubbed off on her sixth album; emotionally and musically, Damned Devotion is her most immediate work since Real Life. A handful of these songs seem like they could've appeared on her debut: "Silly Me" is a fine example of her timeless, torchy examinations of heartache, while the luscious title track and "Warning Bell" celebrate love's complexities. However, it's the album's bravely vulnerable spirit that recalls Real Life more than its sound, which is surprisingly -- and refreshingly -- adventurous. On albums such as The Classic, Wasser wore her '60s and '70s influences on her sleeve, but tracks like "Steed (For Jean Genet)," a striking collage of sampled vocals, chopped-up brass, and hectic percussion, are resolutely modern. Lunging pianos and crunchy, abstract beats make up Damned Devotion's backbone, embodying the confrontation, conflict, and loss that fill its songs. Love prevails, but it's not an easy victory. "Will I need to fight to make it wonderful?" Wasser sings on the album's opening manifesto, "Wonderful." Meanwhile, the gritty percussion on the otherwise silky "Valid Jagger" and "I Don't Mind" feels like battle scars. As always, Wasser is a songwriter unafraid of dealing with the hard work of relationships. She lays the groundwork for communication on "Tell Me" and explores the political side of boundary issues on "The Silence," which culminates in a furious rallying cry of "My body/My choice/Her body/Her choice." The masterful way Wasser balances challenging moments like these with more familiar fare makes Damned Devotion one of the most complete, and daring, portraits of her artistry.

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