Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar Album Review (2011)

A debut album from an exciting new British band is always cause for celebration and the Welsh trio of The Joy Formidable certainly are no exception. With just one EP and a handful of singles behind them, at last they release The Big Roar, a ‘proper’ album that is brimming with creativity, energy and ideas. Taking the best of the band’s early singles and the foundations of their first EP: A Balloon Called Moaning, The Big Roar is the perfect follow-up.

From the outset it is clear that nothing is ever predictable with The Joy Formidable. The Big Roar opens, as you would expect, with a perfect closer. Maybe the band did not want to kick off with the same song that opens their former EP, the next obvious choice for first song. So The Everchanging Spectrum of A Lie begins with a curious collection of bangs as balloons are puffed and then popped, before the swirling guitars of the intro come shimmering and gliding into life. Then the gorgeous tones of lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan bring the whole sound to life. At the three-minute point, the rambling chorus brings in an almighty crash of drums into a sedate multi-layered vocal mid-section before the final three minutes of churning guitars and percussion. Seven minutes and forty-five seconds of thrilling pulsating brilliance.

At their best The Joy Formidable echo the raw pop of early Feeder, combining unrestrained power with uplifting melody. The Magnifying Glass is a perfect example of this: punchy, direct, guitar-driven and relentless from start to finish. I Don’t Want To See You Like This opens up into more expansive territory, still with the driving guitar-work and thundering drums but with Bryan showing just about every style of vocal: sultry one minute, then operatic, and powerfully gritty the next. And early single Austere, with odd vocal backing and buzzing guitar riffs holds the same presence. The last minute is a breath-taking concoction of sound.

A Heavy Abacus is a delicious combination of Bjork and fellow Welsh giants Lostprophets at their melodic best. Easily the highlight in the first half, this soars and glides with enthralling exuberance into another early single Whirring. The twin songs are perfectly aligned, the former an ideal introduction to the latter. A great musical interlude at the mid-point is a calming minute before a twisted darkness descends and a new world of prog-grunge is born. Guitars frame the machine-gun drums into a riotous finish. As fallout of this, the slower dreamy start-stop psychedelic Buoy forms a wonderful trio in the middle of the album. Superb.

Maruyama is the short trippy gothic intro to brilliant pop single Cradle, another rampant slice of noise-pop, before Llaw=Wall. The only song fronted by bassist Rhydian Dafydd shows more versatility at ever opportunity. The final three songs on The Big Roar could be a compilation of three different bands with different sounds but the same ideals as Chapter 2 is post-grunge punk meets early Brit-pop. Closer The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade, the album’s third ‘epic’, from buzzing guitar intro to circling vocal outro, is an astonishing five minutes of textured layered noise around a beautiful vocal centre.

If you are a fan of The Joy Formidable from the ‘early days’ then you may, after a first listen, feel cheated by The Big Roar. The album contains three out of four previous singles (only Popinjay is omitted) and the best songs from A Balloon Called Moaning. So even though fewer than half the songs have been released before, much of The Big Roar sounds very familiar. That said, at just shy of fifty minutes, there is plenty of new material and the ‘old’ blends perfectly with the new to create something fresh, vibrant and interesting. The Joy Formidable is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant world. It is rare these days to find a new band sounding so full of musical expression and knowing exactly how to express it.

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