The Joy Formidable

The Big Roar

(Canvasback; 2011)

By David M. Goldstein | 7 December 2011

Oh glorious waves of wind-swept white noise! Wash over me in mud-laden fields of Glastonbury! Destroy my eardrums with constant tinnitus, requiring me to leave the television and ceiling fan on and take two Benadryl to fall asleep! Mercy, it’s cold in here now! How I desire another blanket! ...of noise!

If that seems the least bit appealing, you should probably check out the recent Joy Formidable record, and get yourself a head-start on a steady regimen of irreparable hearing damage. At their core, the Joy Formidable are a Welsh trio with stadium-sized aspirations and precious little in common with what constitutes a rock band circa 2011, preferring a full-on ‘90s throwback sound like their British compatriots in Yuck. Theirs is music very similar to another trio of Welsh rockers playing spiky arena rock riffs: namely, Manic Street Preachers circa-The Holy Bible (1994), if Richey Edwards had been obsessed with Kevin Shields as opposed to Kurt Cobain.

The Big Roar, their full-length debut, is the end result of several singles and at least two EPs dating back to 2008. Whereas the Formidable used to more closely resemble a particularly loud power-pop band with three-minute songs, they’ve found in The Big Roar (cliché alert) a catalyst for turning three-minute songs into six- by virtue of tacking on enormous shoegazer sound clouds—which turns out to be equal parts thrilling and redundant.

Their signature tune, and the litmus test for discerning whether or not one’s capable of enjoying these guys (and front-person Ritzy Bryan, who is not a guy) is “Whirring.” Initially issued as one of those three-minute pop songs on the A Balloon Called Moaning EP (2010), here it’s given a garish face lift, with two go-rounds at a very serviceable chorus before it careens into the cosmos and peaks, glorious double kick drums and metal riffage raining from its mountain-top. At which point they could perfectly jump back into said chorus, but instead they ramp things up further still, increasing both tempo and noise, before the whole thing just fades out, lest the drummer’s feet fall off. It’s extremely cool, but maybe not as clever as simply chopping two minutes off the song and invoking that killer chorus again. Which, really, is indicative of most Roar tracks: the noise is welcome, but the song is fine enough on its own, y’know?

Then again, epic is just what they like to do. Unless you’re in Cursive or something, you don’t title a seven-minute song “The Ever Changing Spectrum of a Lie” without expecting it to reach the cheapest of seats, and even the songs that don’t explode into shrouds of white noise (all three of them) bristle with a restless energy that would simply sound strange in a 300 cap. room. Dave Grohl knew exactly what he was doing when he tapped the Joy Formidable to open for Foo Fighters on their recent US hockey arena jaunt—the younger band could handle it. I think even the band would agree that trying to get through the entirety of The Big Roar in one sitting would be ill-advised. But there’s plenty to appreciate in 20-minute chunks. It’s an appealing, bombastic hybrid of ‘90s nostalgia, and anything less than audience ear drum obliteration is not an option.