There is something fantastically indulgent and heartening going on here.
James Skinner 2011-01-20
The Deep Field opens with a song called Nervous, wherein a tribal field recording yields to squalls of guitar, an airy drumbeat and Joan Wasser’s declaration of "I want you to fall in love with me". It is an assured, confident start – indeed, it is anything but nervous – that sets the scene perfectly for what Wasser has called her "most open, joyous" record to date: a flawed, fascinating piece of work that takes its title from a distant pocket of space and concerns itself with love and impulsiveness amid countless aspects of contemporary life.
A denser affair than 2008’s To Survive, it fizzes and bursts with plush instrumentation, augmenting her trademark keys with strings, horns and electric guitar in a manner that occasionally threatens to drown out her smooth delivery. Certainly, it doesn’t make much sense at first, lacking the impact of that album’s tear-stained confessionals or the sense of arrival that greeted debut set Real Life. But the ambition present reveals itself gradually, repeated listens opening up these long, sometimes languorous songs.
Wasser has always been far more interesting than a cursory listen to her records might suggest, the idiosyncratic banter of her live shows hinting at a strangeness that suits The Deep Field very well. Found-sound collages and studio chatter colour the album as it segues from one song to the next, rarely faltering. Lead single The Magic lopes along on a sleek riff that finds Wasser lost in a maze of her own making; The Action Man builds, builds and builds for the entirety of its five-minute run; Chemmie dwells on lust in sweet falsetto not a million miles away from Prince; I Was Everyone makes for a bracing finish; Forever and a Year is just gorgeous. Only Human Condition slows proceedings somewhat, an exercise in laid-back soul that veers a little too far towards the inconsequential.
But as a whole, The Deep Field nails it. True, the songs are long, it is almost ceaselessly rich, and you’re going to want to skip its first 30 seconds every time. Yet there is something fantastically indulgent and heartening going on here: the sense that Wasser is embracing her peculiarities and making giddy, ebullient light of them. Long may she continue to do so.