Album Reviews

The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar

(Atlantic) UK release date: 24 January 2011

Popping up at various festivals and releasing the occasional single over the last four years, it seems incredible that The Joy Formidable have only just got around to releasing an album.

Admittedly there was 2009’s mini-album A Balloon Called Moaning, and four of the songs from that effort appear here once again, but their original form hardly hinted at what they would become a year or so later. With the rough and ready bedroom-recorded efforts replaced by beefed-up production and carefully orchestrated layers of noise, fuzz and heavenly keyboards (amongst other things) The Joy Formidable has made an enormous leap forward and sound like an orchestra rather than a spectacularly noisy three piece.

Opening with the truly monumental The Ever Changing Spectrum Of A Lie, The Joy Formidable waste no time in proving just how ambitious they are. Initially a slow burning thrum, it combines a beautifully understated vocal from Ritzy Bryan who possesses pop-nous and rock-diva directness, with the kind loud-quiet explosions that Nirvana was so adroit at pulling off. The sheer scale of this juggernaut of a song, which concludes with a raft of build ups, thundering drums, chiming keyboards and incessant guitar abuse is a phenomenal statement of intent. Most bands would save such an expansive, thrilling song for their sign off; not so for The Joy Formidable. They sound as if they might trash their instruments at any given minute during the course of the album, so why hang around?

Considerably more straightforward than the gargantuan opener, Magnifying Glass follows and leaps straight for the jugular, never yielding once. Bryan’s guitars fizz as if played with an acidic plectrum whilst the drums are beaten with admirable venom. Sat at the centre of the album are a series of songs that should see The Big Roar rightfully lauded as one of the albums of the year. The delightfully hook laden Austere allies a quirky pop-vocal to a sinuous bass figure before launching off into something akin to shoegaze territory (or more accurately, shoegaze with combat boots). A Heavy Abacus meanwhile evokes the moment when Grunge went stadium-sized, simultaneously finding the point at which Tiny Monroe met Smashing Pumpkins. However it is Whirring that sets the high water mark for the album as it builds and morphs becoming more ridiculously grandiose with every passing second. It transforms from modest pop-punk tune to reverb soaked My Bloody Valentine dreamscape, before finally letting go with a double-bass drum laden thrash that wouldn’t be out of place at a Metal club night. It’s utterly jaw-dropping every step of the way.

After such a sensory assault The Joy Formidable could be forgiven for letting their game drop somewhat but even the relative calm of Llaw = Wall with Rhydian Dafydd’s subtle vocal manages to be arresting with its disarmingly gentle introduction eventually giving way to some typically forceful guitars and victorious drums.

The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade closes the album with carefully judged shifts in mood, lurching back and forth between quiet introspection and flurries of noise that never really threaten to engulf the delicate vocals of Bryan. With a Close Encounters keyboard motif guiding the melodies and a fuzzy ambience that develops gradually, it’s an understated finish given the raucous energy being punched out earlier on the scattershot vocal spit of Cradle or the typewriter trashing punk fuzz of Chapter 2. It does however show that The Joy Formidable are just as ambitious and nuanced as The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie suggested they might be.

The Big Roar has been some time in coming, but it has been well worth the wait. This could finally be The Joy Formidable’s year.

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More on The Joy Formidable
The Joy Formidable – Into The Blue
The Joy Formidable @ Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton
Interview: The Joy Formidable
The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
The Joy Formidable @ Academy 2, Leicester