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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar: A-

Alas, in the time that I’ve had to listen to The Joy Formidable’s first proper album, The Big Roar, I haven’t found much to write about. I’ve been far too busy enjoying the album and taking in the great amounts of fun, joy, distress and catharsis this trio can conjure for a fifty-minute product that has the potential to mean the world to countless amounts of listeners.

In many ways, The Big Roar can be compared to Los Campesinos! Romance Is Boring, another album by a British group that seethes with erudite bravado; its UK release was almost an exact year before that of The Big Roar. However, The Joy Formidable are a lot more raw than Los Campesinos! in a lot of ways. Rather than clever wordplay, The Joy Formidable hinge their appeal on the performance of guitarist and lead singer, Ritzy Bryan. Whether strumming elastic chords or jading riffs with distortion, Ritzy’s guitar parts sound just on the verge of implosion, and The Joy Formidable’s bassist and drummer accommodate this attitude, excellently. Ritzy’s lyrics don’t riff on angst-y subjects in a stream-of-consciousness whimper like that of Los Campesinos! Instead they opt for poignant adages that are often just as affecting. “Love is the everchanging spectrum of a lie!” Ritzy hollers in a jarring falsetto on The Big Roar’s epic opener. “I don’t want to see you like this,” she pleads on a later track. These vague statements can seem to many like pompous posturing, but the massive heft of the band’s musicianship, coupled with Ritzy’s confident swoon, make these overarching declarations far from platitudes.

The Big Roar is the first indie rock album I’ve ever heard that prominently features double bass drum. Not surprisingly, many of The Big Roar’s tracks crumble under the weight of their own entropy, collapsing into bouts of chaotic fuzz and crash cymbal. To heighten this state of pandemonium, drummer Matt Thomas will begin wailing on his set to elevate the heaviness of the band’s tracks more than I’ve ever heard a group like them do. On the album’s centerpiece, the raucous “Whirring,” Thomas even weaves double bass triplets into the din that overtakes its second half. It’s unexpected at first, but becomes exceedingly appropriate as it is the highest musical addition the band could have incorporated at that point. When the song sputters close to the seven-minute mark, one wonders why other bands haven’t tried it before.

The Big Roar, by its end, feels like the culmination of multiple albums, because it’s packed with so many peaks that are overtaken by silence, there are a handful of cases when one thinks that there is no way that the group could continue after such a prompt aural beating (This effect even occurs midway through a song, as on the two-part “Llaw = Wall”). And yet The Joy Formidable carry on, hurling life-affirming climaxes at you like you were the last picked for a dodgeball game. The Big Roar is such a ridiculously promising debut for this London group, I’m surprised other critics haven’t received it as rapturously. It’s the perfect mission statement, because it establishes The Joy Formidable’s sound, but still leaves some aspects of it to be explored and improved upon, and I have the utmost confidence that they will continue to make great music as they get a more confident footing as a band. Welcome aboard, The Joy Formidable. Glad to have you with us.


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