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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Albums of the Year - #6: The Joy Formidable - "Wolf's Law"

Rating: 9.0/10

The Joy Formidable are a wonderful little trio from Wales who continuously put out magnificient rock-revivalist albums filled with ambitious sonic landscapes and mammoth drums. Their music is a refreshing take on the modern alternative rock sound: each song radiates positivity as the band aren't afraid to show off their skills with complicated, arena-shaking instrumentals. Singer Ritzy Bryan's bubbly persona and perky vocals only add to the sense of joy in the group's music, as the name suggests. Their style of music lends itself well to a live show, as their songs commonly break off to high-flying instrumental jam sessions of epic proportions. When I saw them back in June, they rocked the Boston House of Blues into oblivion, cranking everything up to eleven in their unapologetically enthusastic way. The show, which had been postponed from April due to the city-wide shutdown during the manhunt of the Tsarnaev brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon, was probably the best of all the concerts I saw all year. This includes the whole of Boston Calling fall's Saturday lineup, which featured Vampire Weekend, Airborne Toxic Event, Gaslight Anthem, and Local Natives.

On Wolf's Law, they continue down the path that their full-length debut The Big Roar forged for them, adding a bit more polish at the expense of some spontaneity. There's no "Whirring" on Wolf's Law, as fewer tracks extend past the five-minute mark, but this makes room for dream-pop pieces and catchy hooks. "Forest Serenade," for example, contains a driven guitar riff and soaring vocals, and follows a more typical verse-chorus format. "Little Blimp" is one of the most forceful tracks on the record, despite taking up under three minutes' worth of disc space. An energetic bass riff and wailing guitars sit under Bryan's encouragement of "paddle me closer, I promise you'll never look back down."

Don't get me wrong; Wolf's Law still has its fair share of epic, face-melting breakdowns. Particularly, the sludgy colussus "Maw Maw Song" takes the album to its most high-reaching point. By adding harps and orchestral drums to the typical set-up, the song feels bigger than life. The frantic, synth-driven verses contrast the wonderfully over-the-top choruses. Around 3:45 in, drummer Matt Thomas releases a brief but insanely fast snare roll before Bryan unleashes a swirling, effect-heavy guitar solo that continuously grows in size and intensity. The solo earned a spot on my top 10 list back in September, and remains my favorite example of what a guitar can do this year.

"Bats," possibly the heaviest track on the record, features a slighty distorted vocal refrain of "we keep hanging on" that begs to be sung along to. Thomas' drum work here is simply monstruous, and Rhydian Dafydd's thunderous bass line adds a whole new layer to the walls of sound. The chorus is splitting at the seams, and the pysch-out ending shows the band at full force. The dual lead singles, "This Ladder Is Ours" and "Cholla" each chug along to sugary guitar riffs and pulsating drums. The latter is a dirty, gritty piece in which Bryan claims "when nothing comes easy/only the finest are left" over a march beat supplied by Thomas. In the chorus, the vivacious vocalist ponders, "where are we going? What are we doing?" 

Despite what this lyric suggests, Wolf's Law indicates that The Joy Formidable know exactly where they're headed. Yes, the wild guitar freakouts found on The Big Roar in songs like "Austere," "The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie ," and "Whirring" might not be as common on the new record. However, the new songs are more polished, the production is cleaner, and the band's already excellent chemistry seems to have gotten even better. The band's versatility is also apparent now more than ever; from the sugary indie-pop goodness of songs like "Forest Serenade," to the raw emotion of the acoustic "Silent Treatment" or the piano-driven hidden title track, to the shamelessly awesome sprawls of "Maw Maw Song," The Joy Formidable cover all grounds on their latest release. In a more fair world, The Joy Formidable would be top of the modern rock game, their irresistible optimism comes through in their perfectly-crafted music effortlessly. Though they don't seem to care, as they're perfectly happy playing arena-sized anthems to whomever will listen, even if they desrve more recognition in the over-saturated Western music culture.

Key Tracks: "This Ladder Is Ours," "Cholla," "Maw Maw Song," "Forest Serenade"

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