words by RAJ DAYAL
“This Ladder Is Ours”
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.
The more expansive sound of this second album showcases the band’s growth. The titanic licks and precision heavy metal drumming are big and sweaty. The songwriting is notably more sophisticated in its approach to lost love and fleeting moments. The album even includes a bent towards the expansiveness of nature, no doubt brought on by the fact that it was recorded in Maine during winter.
While much of the album takes the familiar sound of what the band does well and turns it up to 11, the enigmatic Ritzy Bryan somehow reveals a tender side to her voice while the music is clearly in the red.
Bryan’s delicate voice during the lamentation of “The Silent Treatment” paired with the quiet strumming is disarming. When Bryan insists, “I’ll take the silent treatment off your hands unbeaten/ I’ll take the easy sequence/ Less people more freedom,” it’s a brief intimate moment of reveal from a band seemingly intent on being the loudest on the planet. Sometimes Bryan’s estimable vocal talents are drowned out by her own guitar-shredding antics. Even though Ritzy Bryan can function as the petal, she wants everyone to remember she’s the thorn.
Speaking of loud, “Maw Maw Song,” marks a singular moment in the growth of the band. With unique arrangements, complete with dueling guitar solos and bombastically ferocious drumming, the song showcases TJF at their groove-heavy best. Even with the utterly ridiculous “Mawing” chorus, Bryan’s indignation cuts through, “You want it all/ You want it all/ I envied you/ I envied you/ Now, what do you want from me?” It’s what a Disney musical would sound like in a dark, cryptic alternate universe.
Some of the best songwriting on the album comes from the opener, “This Ladder is Ours.” After the Oscar-worthy strings mentioned earlier, the track flows into Bryan’s hopeful plea to start over—a pick-your-own-adventure story wrapped up in a love song. Bryan explains, “Let’s take this walk/ Let’s take a walk to somewhere pretty/ This ladder is ours/ This ladder is ours/ We can be anybody else/ Hold on to the fringe/ Jump through from the past.”
While Wolf’s Law has a few lulls, such as the syrupy, “The Turnaround,” and some of the prog moments like “The Leopard and the Lung,” run too long, the best moments shine. The Joy Formidable demonstrate that they know how to make a solid rock record. However, the band is still brimming with potential, and one can’t shake the feeling that the best is yet to come. [B-]
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