Joan as Police Woman


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As Joan as Police Woman, Joan Wasser has established herself as a distinctive -- and somewhat underappreciated -- artist, a situation the wittily named retrospective Joanthology aims to remedy. Gathering songs from all of her albums as well as previously unreleased tracks and a "Live at the BBC" session, the set reaffirms just how consistent Wasser's music is, even as she's explored its different aspects over the years. Throughout all of her stylistic shifts, she's proven herself as a songwriter's songwriter. Wasser's willingness to tackle the big issues -- love, death, grief -- with profound yet intimate lyrics is matched by her skill at surrounding them with an equally familiar yet unexpected fusion of soul and post-punk. All of these elements are present on "My Gurl," the debut single that also begins Joanthology, and even more so on the songs from Real Life. The collection features more than half of Wasser's debut album, and rightfully so -- it remains a brilliant introduction to her voice that also reflects all the years of experience behind it. The tenderness and confidence on display on songs such as "The Ride," "Eternal Flame," "Christobel," and the Anohni duet "I Defy" are still potent examples of her ability to be both philosophical and poetic about the hard work that goes into relationships. Joanthology also gives equal time to Joan as Police Woman's talent at exploring happiness with the same sophistication she addresses heartbreak, whether on the radiant sensuality of To Survive's "Start of My Heart" or the simmering intimacy of The Deep Field's "Forever and a Year." Similarly, the collection underscores how she combines her influences in ways that always feel distinctly her own. Even on her most seemingly retro album, The Classic, songs such as "Holy City" and "Good Together" tap into the way that soul music grapples with the complexities of love in active, direct ways instead of just leaning on nostalgia. Later, the avant-garde collage pop of Damned Devotion's "Steed (For Jean Genet)" and the Afro-synth-pop experiments of "Broke Me in Two" from the Benjamin Lazar Davis collaboration Let It Be You showcase the more overtly forward-looking side of her music. Joanthology's previously unreleased and lesser-known material is nearly as vital as her main body of work. The Damned Devotion-era "Live at the BBC" performance includes some of the best songs that didn't appear earlier in the collection ("To Be Loved") and some of her most inspired interpretations of other artists' songs. Her versions of Public Enemy's "She Watch Channel Zero" and Sonic Youth's "Sacred Trickster" testify to her range, as do her down-to-earth take on Prince's "Kiss" and her aching rendition of Talk Talk's "Myrrhman." Along with the quintessentially sultry previously unreleased song "What a World," these extras help make Joanthology a comprehensive, and welcome, celebration of Joan as Police Woman's music.

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