Anyone who has followed The Joy Formidable from The Big Roar through Wolf’s Law has every right to be very excited from the release of this third album, Hitch. A promise from a band that the new record will be minimal and raw is usually one greeted with enthusiasm from any fan base. While it would be overstating the cast to that The Joy Formidable have suffered from overproduction until now, it’s arguably something of this which makes the statement so tantalising.
Though they may have made their name of an oddball blend of grunge, shoegaze and stadium-ready hooks, there’s every sign that The Joy Formidable have completed their artistic evolution away from those capricious beginnings. On the whole, ‘Hitch’, a self-recorded effort, has all the hallmarks of an album made without the scheming aspirations of a large record company on the prowl for easy hits. This is probably a good thing, for where previous album ‘Wolf’s Law’ came to ground on this tension, ‘Hitch’ reacts by trimming all the fat away, leaving only limited, more nuanced traces of the atmospheric instrumentation they made their name on, not try-hard ‘epic’ for the sake of it.
The Welsh trio's third spin under the stylus, Hitch finds the Joy Formidable turning inward, but keeping the speaker cabinets aimed squarely toward the nosebleed section. Recorded in their hometown of Mold after an epic bout of touring, Hitch is the product of a band looking to both reconnect and disappear. Released in 2013, Wolf's Law saw the trio cementing its place in the current pantheon of anthemic indie rockers with a fetish for shoegaze and '90s alt-rock posturing (think Muse, Foo Fighters, British Sea Power and the like), and Hitch doesn't really deviate, at least sonically, from the template.
The Joy Formidable continue on their single-minded path toward sheer scale, this time around taking things a little more slowly in the studio. In fact, the band started by building a studio, The Red Brick, in their native Wales, then spent 12 months recording the album themselves. A little mix help from Alan Moulder (who among many credits was one of the few Loveless engineers deemed worthy of Loveless by Kevin Shields) and boom—another stadium-sized, shooting-for-the-rafters set of anthems from this formidable trio.
Music writing — and the music industry in general — has a problem with hyperbole. Blame it on the publicists who issue press statements hailing the “triumphant return” of Band X after two years in the wilderness, or the writers jumping on the “mind-melting riffage” of Band Y that will turn your ears into twin volcanoes. We’ve arrived at a point when there are simply too many bands angling to be the Next Big Thing, and as a result, over-the-top descriptors have become the national currency of rock journalism.
Though they certainly didn't intend to, the Joy Formidable have captured the trajectory of '90s alternative rock in just three albums. The Welsh trio's bravura 2011 full-length debut The Big Roar recreated the moment when underground rock crashed the mainstream with a sonic boom. It contains the band's only significant radio hit, "Whirring," and it probably could have spawned two of three more of them if it hadn't arrived at a time when the public's appetite for herculean guitar rock was at an all-time low.
London-based trio the Joy Formidable produced Hitch themselves in their north Wales studio. Their guitar riffs are indeed as formidable as anyone who has heard their previous two albums would expect – but there’s a deficit on the joy side of the equation. That could be because Hitch, with its blood-spattered Ralph Steadman sleeve illustration, is essentially a breakup album – the couple in question being singer Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan and guitarist Rhydian Dafydd, who glumly takes the lead vocal on The Gift (“We won’t get this gift again”).
Whatever the magic formula is for capturing the sound and feel of live performance on a studio album, it’s hard to imagine that prolonged, methodical preparation is the way to find it. That was The Joy Formidable’s intent in taking a year to hang in its native Wales to write and record its third full-length, Hitch, and, sure enough, it doesn’t exactly recreate the aura of the band’s stage presence. That said, the attempt was clearly a freeing experience, and engaging in this exploratory process has fostered developments more important than merely simulating a show.
Nothing: The Incredible Sulk. Emma Johnston on new releases from Nothing, The Joy Formidable, Future Of The Left, Broncho and Mogwai Nothing: Tired Of Tomorrow There’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned mope as we start heading into the warmer months, and right now, no one is getting their sulk on with quite so much style as Philadelphia’s Nothing, as they prove on their accomplished second album, Tired Of Tomorrow. This, in case you were wondering, is a compliment.