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Real Life (Bonus Track Version)

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Album Review

Joan Wasser spent most of the '90s and 2000s playing with everyone from the Dambuilders to Antony and the Johnsons to Jeff Buckley (with whom she was involved when he died), but of all the projects she's been involved in, Joan as Police Woman is the the finest. Real Life seems like an immediately brilliant debut, but, as is usually the case, years of experience went into it. You can hear it in Wasser's voice, womanly and raspy; in the way she and the rest of the band fuse soul, post-punk, and '70s-style singer/songwriter pop into something familiar, unique, and seemingly effortless; and in the remarkable vulnerability and strength on display throughout. Wasser took "beauty is the new punk rock" as the manifesto for Joan as Police Woman, and while it's certainly catchy and describes the group's music, there's more to it than that: in Joan as Police Woman's world, it's more challenging, more unexpected, to honor hope and beauty instead of just tearing things down. Real Life's music and words are filled with plenty of spine-tingling beauty, as well as honesty, from how the simmering strings slowly overtake the lilting piano melody on the title track, to the way Wasser offers up her heart on "Anyone": "Try me please/I'm a better dancer than it seems." Even in the supposedly confessional realm of singer/songwriters, it's rare to hear this kind of genuine, nuanced emotion; it's even rarer to have it surrounded by music that's beautifully structured and elegantly played. There is no contrived edginess in Joan as Police Woman's work — in fact, Real Life's warmth and accessibility might be the most (pleasantly) surprising thing about it. Most of the album is rapturously quiet, drawing listeners into powerful yet gentle songs like "The Ride" and "Feed the Light," which breezes in and out on delicate piano and strings that feel like sunbeams. The band raises the volume for a few gently powerful moments like the smoldering "I Defy," a duet between Wasser and Antony Hegarty that is equal parts drama and intimacy, and the brilliantly guitar- and yearning-driven "Christobel." While most of Real Life shines with hard-won optimism and hope, Joan as Police Woman deals with more difficult emotions just as eloquently. "Eternal Flame" sets a tale of having the strength to walk away from a potentially disastrous relationship, no matter how appealing it seems, to luminous guitars and backing vocals, while "We Don't Own It"'s subtly profound acceptance of the ends of things ("it's in the mystery") makes it the perfect final song. Real Life is an almost eerily flawless album, but as intense as it is, it's also incredibly comforting. This album is necessary. [Real Life was released in the U.S. with a bonus disc of B-sides from Joan as Police Woman's U.K. singles.]

Customer Reviews

Joan's beautiful album

I heard about 'Real Life' from an press review and was intrigued enough to buy it; over a year on, my obsession and love for it still grows, the album I take to my bed with me. It's one of those quiet, personal gems that doesn't trouble mainstream acceptability - but that was never the point. If you need some food for your soul, buy this album. Some songs are stark, bare and beautiful. Others driven and unrelenting. The arrangements are perfect, with no high-gloss production - just an incredibly intimate sound like it was recorded in with love and care in a small studio with Joan's cut-down, three-piece band. There are unusual sounds to intrigue, some effects sparingly scattered over and between tracks that complement rather than distract. Although I agree with the official Apple review, I think this album contains one of the most beautiful lyrics ever in the title track, 'Real Life': "I watch the numbers register on the postal scale, I think of your hands and calculate how a man desired feels the weight of a letter" - isn't that amazingly beautiful? Joan's piano, guitar, (and violin?) work is gorgeous, both understated and lush in equal measure. There's nothing obvious here, although the album is extremely melodic and just...hooks you completely. Ben Perowsky's drumming is solid, sparing but imaginative and Rainy Orteca's bass raw, lyrical and McCartney-like; their playing is very groovy and loose in all the right ways. I wasn't aware of any connection to Jeff Buckley initially; while 'Real Life' bears little musical resemblance to 'Grace', as both a fan of JB and JAPW I hear and feel a connection between the two that I hope will be apparent to you; music that makes a connection, not by bashing you over the head with obvious emotional button-pushing, but with unselfconscious beauty and championing of individuality. And in that way, it hardwires into your soul. Buy ‘Real Life’ now and feel better about everything.

THE Best Album In Years!!!!

The best complete modern album in years. The song Real Life sends tingles down my spine, music rarely bring tears to my eyes, when it does it's usually classical music, so it's some achievement that Joan's music can move me to such extremes. Spellbinding voice, songs, playing, production, every song is a gem and so unique. Her E.P is just as amazing, Game Of Life is a simply wondrous song.


Born: 26 July 1970 in Biddeford, ME

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Described by Joan Wasser as "punk rock R&B" and "American soul music," Joan as Police Woman combines two of the biggest influences on her music: classic soul such as Al Green and Nina Simone and the rougher experimental sounds of Sonic Youth and Bad Brains. The mix never sounds contrived, thanks to the intuitive interplay of Wasser's vocals, violins, and guitar, Rainy Orteca's bass, and Ben Perowsky's percussion in the first version of the group. Later, Wasser employed a varied cast of collaborators....
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Real Life (Bonus Track Version), Joan As Police Woman
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