Wednesday, 18 June 2008


Consolations and regenerations at times of underpredicted trauma. The second Joan Wasser album is a light of not quite serene guidance for the disturbed compulsive traveller through the increasingly serrated windows of life; alternately as angrily remorseful as Hugo and as comfortingly sensual as Sterne, To Survive comes in the wake of her mother’s wake; she died of cancer just before recording started and so most of this record concerns itself with the uncertainty of breaths, the grey bewilderment of non-existence and the shining yellow lights of bodily communion. “Holiday” is boldly perky but she has to be careful to breathe regularly amidst the sinkings of “at the sway of your diamond black ocean” but “To Be Lonely” could represent the last, sorely snatched breaths prior to expiration or the resigned, contented and regular heartbeats of aged compromise; her “protect me, night, I’ll make it through” comes out as the blackened other end of Kristofferson’s thirty-five year telescope. Sometimes she will glance down with imperious disgust at the world; the siren fire of the bobbing electric piano on “Furious” and the so subtle she could still join him in Paris denunciations of “To America,” Rufus present in a told-you-so sense.

This fury sometimes converts to pangs of fuckable sensuality – “I wanna throw you up against the hard white wall,” she quivers on “Hard White Wall,” “and make you mine” and her tremulousness makes it the most arresting swift come-on since Patti’s “Gloria”; or it can subdue itself to metronomic, atomised pondering, as on the title track, a lullaby from daughter to mother, and she “must find the spark to go on” trying to pierce her pitch above those of the patient, stranded strings even though the candles have long since run out in favour of desperation-inspired guesswork. And the span, and the threat, between spark, fire and storm (“Magpies,” with its itchy strings and hornet horns, alludes to her mother’s fear to end up as a previous Joan had done (“didn’t live too long/seventeen and gone/but what I learned from St Joan/is heed to the voice in your heart/in this life, this life”).

The purpose is this dread, this anti-fire, that Joan keeps trying to subdue in the full knowledge that she can, and then fulfilling blessed and hard-won sweetness. “Honor Wishes” are her dreams expressed as a prayer to the god which she hopes will lay next to her; forgive all sins (“Would you stay with me anyway?”), and the tremble, the divine equation, the Molly blossom sway of her “bloom” in “will it be my bloom that still excites you?,” her labials drawn out with finesse spiky enough to rival Bonnard, the distant drum rolls (which only become explicit at the album’s other end) and that depthless ocean of oscillating baritone voices which caresses her hair and allows her to float in the song’s second half and they are all mirrors of David Sylvian (for it is indeed he – hi David, if you’re reading this)…and “the SUEDE of your skin”? If only Troy had known.

Still, it is with “To Be Loved” that the torch Joan’s too polite to light or blow out feathers most radiantly; horns at a discreet distance, the piano, the souled-in yearning – the beyond palpable satisfaction of “every breath that’s met us here” next to the sopranino wriggles of “the words, they escape me through my singing cage” but they have found each other through means inaccessible to behaviourists (“how on earth could you have found me/huddled under grapes of wrath”), the now buried ashes of that same wrath (“It’s safe to be alone and be lonely…/But…/I am going to shoot down my ghost town completely ‘CAUSE I KNOW THERE’S A PLACE FOR US – I MADE IT, I MADE IT”) – and I, WE, will make it again however many more times necessary. Outgrow the crowded house, and the now impassable universe between the no longer imaginable “I could not be loved” and the butter rainbows of “OH, I feel the sigh.” Breathe, then try it again, then learn to live. Again.