8/10• This Ladder Is Ours
• Little Blimp
• Silent Treatment
• Maw Maw Song
• Forest Serenade
• The Leopard & The Lung
• The Hurdle
• The Turnaround From the small beginnings but big sound of their first EP, 2009′s A Balloon Called Moaning, Welsh trio The Joy Formidable have gone on to exploits that match the volumes they generate. The reception that greeted their debut full-length, 2011′s The Big Roar, was huge, especially across the Atlantic where they toured with Foo Fighters, appeared on ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon’, and even found themselves on the soundtrack to the third ‘Twilight’ movie. Closer to home, too, they were selling out headline national tours and killing it at festivals like Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds.
The Big Roar shared a number of tracks with the preceding EP, so the release of Wolf’s Law marks the first complete set of all-new material in several years – a prospect to be relished by those who admire both the band’s ambition and their artfully combined melodic rock. The initial impression is that this second album finds The Joy Formidable mostly as we remembered them from two years ago. Clearly energised and inspired by their touring successes, this is a band ready to wield the hugest of sounds at very little notice.
From the big, big riffs of ‘Bats’ and ‘Cholla’ to the MBV-alike scree of ‘Forest Serenade’, the crash of guitars defines and shape the trio’s music and lends it much of its exhilarating (and formidable?) joy. Softer moments are provided by acoustic interludes, the gentle kiss-off of ‘Silent Treatment’ reminding the listener that the band are capable of pretty tunes and soft vocals too. It’s a reminder that is duly reinforced as the melodies become more appealing with each listen, with songs like ‘Cholla’, ‘Forest Serenade’, ‘The Leopard & The Lung’, ‘The Turnaround’ and most recent single ‘This Ladder Is Ours’ really showing off the depth of The Joy Formidable’s songcraft.
As well as several references to nature and wildlife, the songs here seem to focus in on loss. ‘Forest Serenade’ contains the flooring lyric “Maybe I’m not ready for / the baby you were ready for,” while on penultimate track ‘The Hurdle’ vocalist Ritzy Bryan softly declares “I’ve lost a place that I loved / it disappeared,” the poignancy enhanced and punctuated by the use of strings. The use of violins harks back to the orchestral opening to ‘This Ladder Is Ours’ – before the guitars jump in – and it’s this deployment of contrasting elements that keeps The Joy Formidable steps ahead of the competition. Bryan’s alternately breathy and strident singing on ‘The Leopard & The Lung’ is another prime example, and on ‘Cholla’ the quiet middle eight and soft “ooh ooh” harmonies neatly offset the surrounding hard percussion and powerful riffs.
In short, then, it seems the trio have pulled off precisely the trick that one always hopes for from a second album, but only occasionally finds: no large or leftfield digression from their signature sound, no dramatic change of personnel or direction, just a tangible step forward in confidence and ambition. This is The Joy Formidable…only more so.