Review of The Big Roar Album by The Joy Formidable

For a band who've been erring on the precipice of widespread acclaim for some time, it seems quite late in the day for The Joy Formidable's debut long player to finally make an appearance. Although initially formed in 2007, their live performances coupled with a string of well-received singles and EPs has made them several publications' tips for success in every end-of-year poll since. That they've never quite managed to fulfil their early promise could probably be accounted as being more ill fated than judgmental, although it has to be said the quality of each subsequent release since debut single 'Austere' first landed in the summer of 2008 has never wavered. If anything, they seem to have become victims of the big recession. No longer a commercially viable proposition, due mainly to their unrelenting quest for creating musical diversions both longer and louder than the average fare. Then of course there's also the fact that guitar-based pop, or 'indie' as it seems to be known these days, doesn't quite hold the same bargaining power as it did five years ago when the likes of Bloc Party, The Killers and Franz Ferdinand were conquering all around them. That The Joy Formidable have nothing in common with any of the aforementioned other than an aversion to make guitar-orientated music is of little consequence.

The Joy Formidable The Big Roar Album

While 2009's mini-album 'A Balloon Called Moaning' seemed to introduce The Joy Formidable to a wider audience, it only added to the frustration as to whether they'd ever get round to recording a proper full-length record. That all of their earlier singles - the aforementioned 'Austere' and its two immediate successors 'Cradle' and 'Whirring' were included then and also make an appearance here perhaps don't bode too well. Indeed many would argue that they've never equalled let alone bettered these three songs over their three-year career. However, despite such justifiable gripes, they'd also be wrong. Just one listen to the opening barrage of noise that preludes 'The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie' would suggest otherwise. Not only do The Joy Formidable appear to have taken on an extra level of sonic ambivalence, but singer Ritzy Bryan also has an uncanny knack of morphing into a modern-day Siouxsie Sioux at her most epic. When she reveals her more fragile side, cautiously intoning 'The dangers are showing any kind of weakness' prior to its grandiose finale, there's a feeling The Joy Formidable fully realise they're in the last chance saloon as far as mainstream acceptance is concerned.

'The Magnifying Glass' continues the album's trend for revealing a more unorthodox side to the band, possibly mirroring what early nineties noiseniks Silverfish would have sounded like had they followed a similar path to Three Colours Red or Feeder. Esteemed studio boffin Rich Costey's inference comes to the fore on the re-recorded singles, particularly 'Cradle' and its punk-infused momentum which oddly wouldn't sound out of place on a record like 'Celebrity Skin'. Similarly 'A Heavy Abacus' and the climactic 'The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade' take 'The Big Roar' into a more vaunted territory of 1992, where the Smashing Pumpkins and Pixies reign supreme. However, that little observation isn't meant as a criticism, but more a compliment on the fact the incendiary array of sounds emanating from this album are the result of a three-piece rather than the more traditional twin guitar forays of their influences. Firm incumbents of the school of less-is-more along with Blood Red Shoes and No Age, The Joy Formidable's brutal intentions fully realised for the most part here.

Although much of the focus here lies with the inimitable Bryan, partner in crime Rhydian Dafydd's vocal contribution on the simplistic neo-psychedelia of 'Llaw = Wall' proves a welcome variation from 'The Big Roar''s full-on assault, while the caustic 'Chapter 2', complete with typewriter keyboards and all could be the incidental music to an ITV detective drama were it not for the sonic maelstrom in its final third.

Overall, 'The Big Roar' is everything The Joy Formidable promised to deliver from the outset and more. Having taken so long in the making, the wait has been worthwhile. Now, with the first chapter documented and closed, the next stage of their development could be an excitingly mouth-watering journey indeed.


Dom Gourlay

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