Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The Joy Formidable's Nineties-loving songs are wickedly bracing and Himalaya-huge. Like the band's 2011 full-length debut, The Big Roar, Wolf's Law brings howl clouds of guitar attack on songs that can lurch forward or flare up, then push and pull in any direction. The Nirvana-like tension and release are echoed in singer Ritzy Bryan's subtly cutting PJ Harvey-like lyrics: "Maybe I'm not ready for the 'maybe' you were ready for," she sings, cooling a guy's jets before they even get a chance to take off on "Forest Serenade." At times, it feels like they're glue-gunning hot ideas rather than writing fully realized songs, but they've come up with some fine Frankensteins nonetheless.
2011's The Big Roar wasn't just a crowning achievement for the Joy Formidable; it was a crowning achievement for rock music, period. That a band could meld such a hodgepodge of influences–shoegaze, Britpop, grunge, electro–and turn it into something as cohesive, engaging and accessible as that record was nothing short of astounding. The record didn't hit it too big in the States, but it definitely should have.While its follow-up Wolf's Law doesn't quite possess the wow factor so inherent in The Big Roar, it's hardly a regression.
A play on German anatomist/surgeon Julius Wolff's theory that a human or animal's bones will adapt to the stresses imposed upon them, Wolf's Law, the second studio album from the Joy Formidable, finds the Welsh trio building upon its already gargantuan sound with remarkable aplomb. On 2011's appropriately titled The Big Roar, the band successfully channeled the rich sonic breadth of alt-rock giants like My Bloody Valentine and Lush into the increasingly shallow waters of 21st century indie rock, carving out its own unique tributary with past generations' tools. With arena-sized scope and meticulous attention to detail, the band works with a larger arsenal on Wolf's Law, which pairs all three members' well-honed weapons of choice with a full-on string section, most effective on stunning opening cut "This Ladder Is Ours" and epic closer "The Turnaround," the latter of which lit up the Internet months before the album's release with an evocative, Terrence Malick-inspired video for the song's propulsive three-and-a-half-minute coda.
The Joy Formidable were already huge on their first full-length album. Two years on and they are, if anything, even huger: Wolf's Law is so gargantuan that it's little surprise they were invited to be the opening act on Muse's autumn tour last year. This is one for speakers, not headphones, a great dense whoosh of music that makes you feel like the bloke in the old Maxell tapes advert.
In 2011, Welsh trio The Joy Formidable made one hell of a mission statement with their full-length debut The Big Roar and fully embraced the record’s title with an unapologetic, rafter-reaching noise, cemented by the airy vocal foil of pixie frontwoman Ritzy Bryan. The band’s sophomore follow-up Wolf’s Law finds the group continuing to climb that established mountain of sound—they’ve learned something from actually playing the arena-sized venues they’d wished for with Roar. Unlike their debut—which could sometimes have moments equivalent to loud machine-gun fire, occasionally hitting its intended target but blurring together and exhausting itself—the tracks on Wolf’s Law are like laser-guided rocket blasts, tighter and more effective.
The Joy Formidable are attempting to follow a career path that's all but impossible for up-and-coming rock bands to traverse these days. They want to play arenas, and fill those arenas with punishingly loud and hooky guitar riffs and righteous, octopus-arm drum fills that roll over enormous crowds like a monster truck assaulting a line-up of hollowed-out Chevy Malibus. The Joy Formidable have already done this as an opening act for other bands-- most notably Muse during last fall's tour in support of the ridiculous The 2nd Law-- but they burn with headliner envy.
The Joy FormidableWolf's Law[Atlantic; 2013]By Brendan Frank; February 14, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetThe importance of contrast needn’t be understated when discussing the Joy Formidable. Much of their appeal rests within their formula for songwriting: charming guitar pop accompanied by thunderous, speaker-clipping levels of volume and enthusiasm. They established this blueprint with their first releases, A Balloon Called Moaning and The Big Roar.
If you haven’t listened to The Joy Formidable before, that’s okay; it will take you only one song to catch up. By the end of This Ladder is Ours, it’s clear that The Joy Formidable want to write the biggest, most stadium-ready anthems that anyone has ever written, and for all 12 songs (there’s a hidden track at the end) of Wolf’s Law, they bring the raging vocals, distorted power chords, and slightly metal-tinged drumming to do just that, infusing it with modern dream pop sensibilities to keep it fresh. It’s the same thing they did on 2011’s debut The Big Roar, which means that if this is your first exposure, it’s thrilling, which anyone who has seen any of their wild, go-big-or-go-home live shows can attest to.
Putting what the Joy Formidable sounds like into words hardly does the band justice, even more so than with most acts. That’s in large part because the Welsh group boasts a maximal aesthetic that begs to be described with adjectives in the superlative form and punctuated with lots of exclamation points, considering the hyperbolic scale and scope of the Joy Formidable’s visceral soundscapes. And it doesn’t exactly help matters that the musical vocabulary that best creates a mental image of the Joy Formidable’s approach tends to paint a picture of the band’s amped-up take on ‘90s alt-rock as a bit dated, even unhip, when it’s anything but.
That The Joy Formidable quickly found themselves making the transition from fleapit clubs to major festival stages and supporting Muse on tour is no surprise. Their debut album packed in big choruses and huge guitar riffs that clearly had lofty aspirations. What made The Big Roar such a success however was the bite and aggressive edge that is somewhat lacking on their second effort.
The breakout success of the Joy Formidable's debut album propelled the band to bigger stages than you'd expect a Welsh shoegaze trio to reach. Playing to large crowds seems to have influenced them. On Wolf's Law, they beef up their already bombastic rock sound, adding string arrangements, effects-laden guitars and even bigger, brighter vocal melodies courtesy of singer Ritzy Bryan.
It might be on the first listen, it might be after a year, but chances are at some point in listening to The Joy Formidable, you will discover complete ignorance as to what the songs are about. Like watching a foreign film without translation, you rely on clues to the plot, observing character’s reactions, lighting changes, and the score’s rises and falls to provide emotional cues. But really, the understanding is just a hypothesis that most don’t bother to test.
Fittingly adorned with an oil-painting artwork of flowers growing from the corpse of a wolf (beauty from savagery – geddit?), Welsh trio The Joy Formidable’s second album ‘Wolf’s Law’ takes their 2011 debut’s brutal pop maelstroms and adds to it orchestras, death metal riffs and acres of billowing Muse bombast that seem purpose-built to soundtrack HD footage of volcanoes erupting or rioters lobbing firebombs onto police van windscreens. Inevitably for a band built on pomp-rock power, their idea of ‘progression’ means turning everything up to 11. ‘Wolf’s Law’ is the biological theory that bones strengthen to bear the weight that’s placed on them, and the emotional metaphor runs strong through the album.
During the lengthy gestation between the Joy Formidable’s formation in 2007 and their 2011 debut, The Big Roar, the Welsh trio honed an extremely effective formula of sprawling, loud-as-war rock and shimmering pop hooks. That method is largely adhered to on Wolf’s Law, and the ferocious vitality which informed the first album is still present here in flashes: “The Ladder Is Ours” strikes the same Sonic-Youth-by-way-of-Foo-Fighters pose as career highlight “Whirring,” while “Cholla” is a granite-hewn, mosh-ready barnburner. Unfortunately, the law of diminishing returns also bites hard, and after about the fourth feedback-driven wig-out in a row, Wolf’s Law becomes something of a slog.
With its 2011 debut, The Big Roar, The Joy Formidable helped to usher in a new wave of '90s nostalgia, with grungy guitars galore and alterna-happy songwriting that very often seemed to favor general sonic assault over pure song craft. The sound was hauntingly familiar, almost too much so, like The Smashing Pumpkins heard for the hundredth time on alternative radio, yet it also managed to bring back those halcyon years when heavy-guitar bombast was all the rage. .
There’s a gong that sits behind drummer Matt Thomas that mostly goes unused throughout The Joy Formidable’s entire live show, until the very end, when singer Ritzy Bryan leans her guitar on her amp, lets the feedback swallow up the crowd, and proceeds to make as much noise as possible on the thing. One time I saw her knock the cymbal out of its rigging she was hitting it so hard. The band, in no uncertain terms, rules.
Who wants to be the biggest band in the world? On the evidence of their second album, The Joy Formidable really want it. The group supported Editors and Passion Pit on the strength of a very fine mini-album, and then Muse for most of last year, so their plan for world domination is evidently underway. In the month of lists and tips for 2013, it’s a fair question, but DiS readers will already be asking themselves “why ‘biggest’? why not anything else?” Last year, the band’s debut, The Big Roar, was one of my most played guitar albums, until The Unwinding Hours overtook it by a nose, on the final stretch.
Careening into earshot with sweeping orchestral melodies born of hardship and heartache, Welsh pop-metal powerhouses The Joy Formidable are back. ‘This Ladder Is Ours’ instantly recalls the insatiable pop hooks and rollicking rock of their relentlessly fantastic debut, The Big Roar. They’ve kept their rotund licks – big chunky things that impressed beardy icon Dave Grohl (‘Whirring’ reportedly securing them a support slot with Foo Fighters) and won over the hearts of the yearly “guitar music is dead” stalwarts.
The Joy Formidable prove that having stadium-sized ambitions needn’t neuter originality. Ben Hewitt 2013 Wolf’s Law suggests that, however hefty a burden is placed upon our bones, they’ll adjust accordingly to support the load. And it’s unsurprising that The Joy Formidable have become keen enough believers in the theorem to appropriate it for the title of their second album.
Despite being the Hyped Young Things of a few years back, The Joy Formidable have focused on what needs doing and shrugged off what’s beyond their control - and what a blessed relief that is. Their gloriously undefinable blend of noise that hovers about the axis of post-punk, grunge, shoegaze, and alternative rock won them plaudits and a fanbase eager for more even before the release of their first LP, and that thunderous debut had a defiantly lengthy incubation of four years, anointing them as critical darlings when it finally dropped. Fast forward a couple of years of writing, touring, and a stint in a snowed-in cabin in Maine, and the Welsh power-rock trio have returned with the follow up to 2011’s ‘The Big Roar’.
I recently finished reading Neil Young’s memoir Waging Heavy Peace. Everything you’ve heard about it to this point is true; it’s less a story about the man’s life and more a series of random vignettes about his various loves aside from music, mostly his extensive collection of classic cars and model trains, and his awe at the variety and quality of the produce section at the Costco near his vacation home in Hawaii. Also covered: how much Neil Young hates the MP3.
Reviving the massive echoes of 2011 debut full-length The Big Roar, this Welsh trio's second LP won't work if heard at anything less than the farthest notch right on the volume knob. That said, while Wolf's Law will undoubtedly shame you off of Spotify, it lacks the full weight of its predecessor thanks to obvious grabs for the epic. "This Ladder Is Ours" shit-kicks out of the gate in an ecstatic ascent of full bass and unremitting guitar.
On Wolf’s Law, the sophomore album from the Welsh indie rock outfit The Joy Formidable, an orchestra ironically announces the heartbreaking lyricism and a heavy, buzzing crunch that sounds like a thousand bees trapped in their honeycombs. The band’s previous album The Big Roar spawned a couple of minor indie hits, “Austere,” and “Whirring.” It also earned them praise from Dave Grohl and an opening gig with Foo Fighters. With a quick ascent and a first album coiled with energetic hooks, a powerhouse frontwoman and enough low-end thump to provide a minor resurrection of guitar rock, TJF practically oozed with potential.