With music artists as diverse as the Manic Street Preachers, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Future of the Left, and throwing John Cale in the mix for good measure, Wales became known as the primary breeding ground for alternative sounds and stances that levitate a bit off from the central indie machinery.
The Joy Formidable, one of the few new bands that is fully armed with the ability to hit you like a heavily amplified swarm of bumblebees, hails from the same surroundings. After their debut EP A Balloon Called Moaning harvested nothing but praise and the full-fledged release The Big Roar challenged the hype further with passionate nods to shoegaze manifesto and bedlam-buried hooks, gathering accolades and topping countless ‘best of’ lists, the trio started the year with the release of Wolf’s Law, a sophomore effort designed to astonish us once more.
With the title alluding to German physician Julius Wolff’s theory that the bone becomes stronger and thicker in time to resist the loads under which it is placed, The Joy Formidable ingeniously profess the necessity of continuous artistic remodeling, while faced with the pressure of producing either another collection of gargantuan stomps or something completely different from their past exploits.
That being said, Wolf’s Law is set to please both ends of the alternative audience’s spectrum. We are once again awarded with chunky oil smudges on the stormy sea full of caterwauling killer whales and yet, progress oozes out of every pore of the record, indicating a conscious resetting of the band’s tune-crafting approach. Gone are the lengthy excursions into the uncharted territories of noiseville and while the songwriting essentially follows the patterns of their previous work, the overall attire assures us that this time around special care was applied to arrangements and production, making the end result flawlessly polished and undeniably hymnic.
»Let’s take this walk, it’s long overdue«, the opening line of This Ladder is Ours, fittingly serves as a self-assuring starting point for a band ready to make the next step with a newly acquired brew of performance mileage and studio experience that was somewhat missing from The Big Roar. The song itself is a straitjacket-trapped blast of catchy melody and multi-layered arrangements bound to provoke subconscious receptors of each and every listener.
Cholla, with its Zeppelin-esque riff ripping into massive bass lines that redefine the thickness of sound, follows similar rifts in the noise vs. melody divide, boiling up to a breakout chorus of eternal questioning that is soothing as much as it is menacing. As is the case with the cactus that lent the song its name, the barbed spikes of sound stay with you long after the brush of music touched your ears, sunk deeply into the flesh of your awareness. Further examples of a band improving upon its own formula are Tendons, Little Blimp and Bats, standard The Joy Formidable rockers and definite future live staples with more than enough juice to elevate them above the average noise-making acts of the present day alternative rock drought.
But the real surprise is lodged in the second half of the album. Slower and gentler, soaked in spiritual introspection, the songs creep up on you from the very shadows that the most intense dreams are made of, sailing on the established contrast between the seemingly fragile vocals of singer Ritzy Bryan and the actual weight of the compositions. Between cascading turnarounds and the urges for less talking and more reason, the notes float in unison as a single entity, straight to the fall of the curtain in the form of a hidden title track, with its downstroke drama slowly cartwheeling to an epic climax, wrapped in a sonic waterfall that is both painfully honest and blissfully gut-wrenching.
As far from easy listening as possible, but still wildly accessible to satisfy a broader audience, The Joy Formidable remind us of no one in particular, yet sound so familiar.