Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
The Joy Formidable
Written by: TL on 26/04/2016 13:45:13
The Welsh trio The Joy Formidable has arrived this year at their third full-length album "Hitch", which was released last month and has since miffed spoiled streaming service users (not appearing on Spotify for instance). Even more so because if you've managed to check out the pre-release stream, all impressions signaled an album you'd really want to be able to dive into repeatedly, and indeed, that's pretty much the idea you should come out with, if you do manage to get your hands on the record and subject it to some thorough investigation.
In contrast to the album's predecessor, 2013's "Wolf's Law", which was recorded mainly on the road while the group was touring, "Hitch" was a more dedicated effort, labored over in singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan's home studio. And listening to it you can easily imagine how more time and focus has gone into it, as the trio's signature style feels more potent and characteristic than ever. Ever the riff smiths, The Joy Formidable have first and foremost made an album for people who love good guitar playing and recording. The songs, many of which clock in at around five or six minutes, are actually fairly conservative in structure, yet each is carefully ornamented with both bombastic and soulful guitar work, which is strongly accented and founded by the contributions of bassist Rhydian Davies and drummer Matthew Thomas.
Above the instruments, you hear Bryan's voice floating, with airy, contemplative lows and shrill, affected highs. She maintains a distinct coolness through it all, though, which is likely a great part of the reason why the band has occasionally been labelled as shoegaze, and indeed, you do get the feeling often that while the singing has presence and great enunciation, it's the shredding and the noise that the band is primarily interested in, much like it's common for noise-rock or shoegaze bands.
Basically then, the more central the part of some loud guitar playing, the stronger the songs are on "Hitch". "Radio Of Lips" jumps swiftly at the listener with some slightly repetitive, yet catchy stadium-sized licks, and the dreamy wide-angle feeling brings to mind a band like The Jezabels for comparison. The single "Last Thing On My Mind" starts with a cheeky bit of studio tomfoolery, only to set in with deceptively contagious beats and bass grooves, the rhythmic tension of it bringing to mind the likes of Band Of Skulls or The Kills. Bryan vocalises the bass signature through a distorted microphone, and when her guitar rings during the chorus, you feel the oomph of the record's excellent production, the instruments filling up your headphones just the way you want them to.
Further down the tracklist, "It's Started" commences playfully, panning a drum solo left, right, left and back in the mix (listen with headphones), before Bryan barges in again with a banger of a riff, and the song just flexes and flexes all the way to the deliciously harmonised solo bit towards the end (though you wonder what kind of loop wizardry Bryan would have to do live, to avoid using backtrack for the extra layers of guitar). Meanwhile, on the album's second half, "Running Hands With The Night" really lets her unload come the song's halfway mark: Here she chants and whispers while ripping it up, each little change to the riff playing off the last, speaking volumes of a guitar player that's one with the instrument, who knows how to express herself and invoke sounds of danger and excitement, more so than just playing a rigid part in a composition.
Further highlights could include "Liana" and "Blowing Fire", while other numbers like "The Brook" and "Fog (Black Windows)" would arguably feel a bit weaker if considered strictly individually, simply because they seek to thrive without the band's strongest asset, relying on more mellow moods and more low-key guitar parts. They sit well in the sequence, though, as changes of pace which give some contrast, and "Underneath The Petal", for instance, shows off nicely that the band can tear it up just as well when employing acoustic arrangements with acoustic guitar, piano and flute.
So, while "Hitch" may occasionally feel a bit conventional in how its songs are structured at their core, and while The Joy Formidable might not be as convincing when it comes to engaging you without using the full weight of their guitar power, the frequently awesome feeling that comes when they do forge on, goes a long way towards making up for it. Far enough, in fact, to make "Hitch" feel like one of the most gratifying, full-blooded and mature guitar rock records so far this year, meaning you should absolutely go the extra mile to check it out, even if it has yet to emerge on your streaming service of choice.
Download: The Last Thing On My Mind, It's Started, Liana, Running Hands With The Night
For The Fans Of: Band Of Skulls, The Jezabels, The Kills
Release date 25.03.2016
C'mon Let's Drift / Caroline