The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
London-via-Wales trio The Joy Formidable released their anthemic debut LP The Big Roar in late January on Atlantic Records. Their music has been described as “primal epic grunge rock à la The Breeders, Arcade Fire and Yeah Yeah Yeahs”. I hear a lot more Sonic Youth, Hole and early Smashing Pumpkins in those layers of whirling, fuzzed-out guitarscapes than any of the above, but Ritzy Bryan’s feminine vocals, as confident as they are, add a delicate texture and a sense of innocence to their sound… the frosting on the cake that even Kim Gordon never brought to the party. That soft side is accentuated by the fact that Bryan, a cute pixie platinum blonde, regularly appears onstage in girly dresses. Don’t let her appearance fool you though; Ritzy’s a rocker and she brings it live, often ending songs in washed out distortion with her guitar on the stage floor in front of her amp while she pounds on her pedalboard with her fists.
Bryan is backed by her long-time friend Rhydian Dafydd’s supporting (and occasional lead) vocals and fuzz-encrusted but solid bass and driven by Matt Thomas’ outstanding and creative percussion. It takes a couple of songs of a TJF performance to get over Ritzy Bryan’s stage presence, but when you do you quickly realize that Thomas is one hell of a drummer. Dave Grohl’s work with Nirvana instantly came to mind, but having seen a few performances now, I’d be willing to bet that his influences go back another generation to Keith Moon or Mitch Mitchell. The trio is building a reputation as a must-see act live, having spent the last year touring both as an opening act for heavy-hitters Passion Pit and Temper Trap and as a headlining act throughout much of North America, Europe and Australia.
Four years in the making, this is a gutsy and confident first entry for The Joy Formidable that lives up to its substantial hype and delivers on every count with a side of in-your-face bravado to spare. A third of these songs were previewed on their 2009 EP A Balloon Called Moaning, which won them critical praise from a variety of outlets including SPIN and The New York Times. As its title suggests, and not unlike producer Rich Costey’s work with Muse & Foo Fighters, The Big Roar demands volume. That massive production style just sounds better when played really fucking loud, but it’s also full of moments of clever indie-pop hooks (“Austere”,” Cradle”) and epic, emotive soundscapes (“Whirring”, “The Greatest Light”). Bryan has stated that her inpiration comes mostly from great songwriters like Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. “It’s all quite removed from the sort of sound we’re making,” Bryan says. “But at the same time I think classic melodic songwriting is the big thing for us.”