When one thinks of survival, it conjures up images of barren islands, a lack of vital resources or, thanks to modern times, television shows where people are purposefully cast into harmful situations for the sake of money and fame. On her second album, To Survive, Joan as Police Woman (aka Joan Wasser) argues that relationships require strength and endurance, as well.
As with many a relationship, the music is seductive — and secretive. Sixteen musicians (in addition to Wasser) appear on To Survive, but rarely does it sound like there are more than two. Wasser is rightfully at the center of each piece, her voice, piano, synths, guitar, organ and/or strings the most auditorily present aspects throughout. It’s easy to get distracted by the projected simplicity, but attentive listening unfurls a gargantuan list of instruments, including saxophone, trumpet, farfisa, tambourine and even sandpaper.
The lyrics follow an emotional trajectory of in love — in conflict — in love — in conflict — break-up. But even the darkest songs contain professions of adoration, setting a sultry, sexy mood, creating the kind of album one might reach for before an intimate encounter.
The most interesting part of this narrative (and the album) is the final track, “In America,” which features vocals from Rufus Wainwright. It’s the only song that outright depicts any sort of fight (“In time the hunter will find the trail of blood / I see you alone tonight / when will you tear down?”), but it sounds the most majestic, the most triumphant, even though she still refers to the other person as “my love.” It leaves us to wonder: if a relationship, or love, is something to be survived, does its ending constitute a strange sort of victory or simply a release from a precarious position?