“The Magic” burns with a sparse but smartly-articulated sense of old-school, Stevie Wonder-ish funkiness. The song roots itself in a keyboard vibe—both electric piano and organ set the basic tone—while the verse offers up a melody at once slinky and sprightly. Vocally, Joan delivers at both ends of her singing register; I’m not sure I’ve previously heard a female singer employ her falsetto quite so Prince-ishly before.
Keys-driven groove notwithstanding, I suggest keeping your ears on the guitar, which noodles in the background early, pretty much disappears for two-thirds of the song, then makes its presence known at 2:35, laying down some scorching and dissonant lines underneath the repeated lyric “I wanna be bad.” There’s a sense here that we’re building towards a full-out wailing solo, but it never happens. And the song is better for it, as instead we veer at 3:07 into a dreamy resolution to the bridge, both musically and lyrically, with Joan singing, “My shadow must find a window in the wall”—a lovely line that’s both specific and vague, concrete and abstract, hopeful and brooding.
Joan As Police Woman has been Joan Wasser’s performing name since 2002, but the Maine-born, Connecticut-raised Wasser had been a working musician since the early ’90s, getting her start as violinist for the Dambuilders while still a Boston University student. Early in her career Wasser was perhaps best known as Jeff Buckley’s girlfriend; losing her way after his death in 1997, she eventually hooked up with Antony Hegarty in 1999, became part of his band for a while and performed on Antony and the Johnsons’ 2005 album I Am A Bird Now. Her first Joan As Police Woman album was released in 2006. “The Magic” is a track from her new album, The Deep Field, which was released in January in the U.K., and is available digitally via her web site and iTunes. A physical release in the U.S., on PIAS Recordings, is scheduled for April.