16 March 2011

The Joy Formidable: "The Big Roar"

Every time I hear someone mention The Joy Formidable, there is never a consensus as to what to call them; some refer to them as art rock, others as noise rock/pop, others as generic indie (rock), but there is never any agreement to where exactly to place them. This, in fact, is one of the attractions to this Welsh trio: you cannot commodify them by any single label. I learnt that myself when I interviewed the band (link) and reviewed their debut release, “A Balloon Called Moaning” (link). Releasing their first full-length album, “The Big Roar” (24 January 2011 in the UK, 15 March 2011 in the USA), The Joy Formidable proves true to form: powerful music that does not follow the clichés of current indie. Miles away from revivalism, and even further away from glossy, frilly recordings that capitalize on production gimmicks and not songwriting talent, this is an album of amazingly brilliant craftsmanship.

Here are three ways to look at the album: confident, big, and poetically brutal.

There is nothing tentative about this album. No production gimmicks to enhance the band’s sound, the band is confident enough to put their music out there in the most minimalist fashion possible at times, and at others as bombastic as the best of them. In fact, The Joy Formidable was so confident of their product that they included previous released material on this much-anticipated debut, which breathes new life into these songs. It was like I was listening to “Cradle” for the very first time. Regardless if you are listening to the epic opening, “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie,” which wallows through noisy arrangements and backgrounds, or the straightforward “Austere” or the mysterious “Chapter 2,” each song on the album breathes conviction through and through. There is no feigned posturing, just viscerally powerful music.

It is rare for a trio to have such a big sound … and “The Big Roar” as a title is more than appropriate. It is not big in the sense of arena, stadium, or festival ready (which it is on all three fronts!), but it is big in concept. Just relisten to the familiar “Whirring.” Is it indie pop? Is it noise pop? Is it art rock? Is it shoegaze? Is it Britpop? No, no, no, no, no … it is all of that and more. The music on the album capitalizes on its mutability within each track and each track’s ability to reference musically more than most bands do. What should be a cacophony that makes you run in the other direction ends up becoming a big adventure through different, often time aggressive, sonic terrains that are tempered and made seductive by Ritzy Bryan’s mesmerizing voice. But make no mistake, that aggressive music is as mesmerizing; take “A Heavy Abacus” for example: from soft and hollow, to lusciously full and dreamy, each terrain of music is meant to illicit not just a visceral response, but a physical one as well.

I am a lyrics person, but lyrics fall short when the band cannot sell them with the music and the vocalist with conviction – not the case here. The music wraps around the lyrics perfectly (or is it the other way around?), while you cannot stop wanting to listen to Bryan’s voice. But these are not great poetic lyrics for poetical posturing; these are great and brutally honest poetical lines for catharsis. “My Love, love is the everchanging spectrum of a lie, a lie to hide behind when nothings right…” (“The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie”). Now I’ve been there! But not all the lyrics are personal, some have great social implications, like in “The Magnifying Glass”: “…the world is cruel and outsides licking lips, all I know let’s shed the myth.” Of course, the most heart wrenching one is at the close of the album: “..this dream is in a telescope now…” (The Greatest Light Is the Greatest Shade”), far away, perhaps never reachable.

I have waited for quite some time for this album, and “The Big Roar” was well worth the wait. In a nutshell, I think everyone should give The Joy Formidable’s “The Big Roar” a bash.

Track Listing:
1. The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie
2. The Magnifying Glass
3. I Don’t Want To See You Like This
4. Austere
5. A Heavy Abacus
6. Whirring
7. Buoy
8. Maruyama
9. Cradle
10. Llaw = Wall
11. Chapter 2
12. The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade

Keep up with The Joy Formidable at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

“Austere” (original video), “Cradle,” “I Don’t Want To See You Like This,” “Austere” (official video), and “Whirring” from their YouTube Channel: TheJoyFormidable.

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