RIYL: Sugarcubes, The Sounds, Editors
The Joy Formidable are North Wales’ Ritzy Brian and Rhydian Daffyd with drummer Matt Thomas who clearly needs to change his name to keep up with his band mates. Like many of their contemporaries, they bring a great deal of post-punk and new wave influences to their electronic indie rock, but unlike most, they manage to transform it all into a fresh sonic experience of sublimely constructed songs that work on levels musical, emotional and technical.
Before signing with Atlantic, the Joy Formidable produced an excellent EP, A Balloon Called Moaning that demonstrated a true breadth to their song craft. At eight songs, this was a much more than a typical EP, feeling like a complete debut work. Such a solid collection drove anticipation for their full-length debut, but also created some questions. Would they simply add a few more songs and call it new? What would they do with the experience and added room? The answers are a bit surprising, challenging for the listener, and well worth listening to again and again.
Unabashedly, the Joy Formidable kick off the record with “Austere,” one of their most accessible and catchy songs, and one of four repeats from the EP. But calling them repeats doesn’t do the songs justice; from the deeper, more resonant production quality to the extended ending, they improved upon the lush, layered pop in every way. Impressively, and with no little risk, they went with a “bigger and more” theme throughout The Big Roar, perhaps to live up to the aggrandizing title. Whatever the intent, it works. They play with more echoing, ambient haunts on the original “Buoy” slowing down the pace and tone on track two, playing with expectations, not catering to them. When they rev it back up on “Chapter 2,” they throw pop pretentions out the door, using an old typewriter as introductory percussion, before slamming you with a wall of grinding guitars and drums.
Somehow, throughout the album, Ritzy and company move in unexpected directions, without ever going off the rails. The wash of distortion that never loses its pop roots in “Cradles” flows into a mix of Primitives-style pop rock and prog rock eclecticism. Here you also get the taste of their all-out jam sensibility, as the song goes on for several minutes of heady instrumental work, ending in a wash of white noise.
The entire album is one designed to sweep you up on to a constant ride through a very deliberately crafted joyous and formidable world. If the band was trying to capture their live experience on a studio record, it feels like they made that magic happen. At times channeling Siouxsie Sioux, other times the Cocteau Twins with some balls, Ritzy Brian skates across the breathy, frosty vocal spectrum, without slipping into coyness or frigidity. She lets the pulse of the music carry her voice, riding the crests, and providing some clear focus in the cacophony without corralling the rush. It all comes to a close with the last and greatest of their songs brought over from the EP. “Whirring” is the quintessential example of the “bigger and more” philosophy, double in length from the original, bringing together all the pop, rock, indie and progressive sensibilities into a perfect whole. “All these things about me, you never can tell,” sings Brian, and this is a good thing. The Joy Formidable hook you easily, without ever being easy to pin down, and this makes for one of the best records you’ll hear this year. (Canvasback/Atlantic 2010)