The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar

Paul Cook 16/01/2011

Rating: 4.5/5

In essence The Big Roar has been almost half a decade in the making since the trio formed in 2007. It features some sensible selections from the band's first EP A Balloon Called Moaning peppered amongst a promising collection of eight brand new tracks. It's a daunting task reviewing an album that I've been anticipating ever since I heard the thundering introduction of The Greatest Light is The Greatest Shade some three years ago. In that time I have seen The Joy Formidable half a dozen times and with each performance my anticipation of their debut-proper has grown and grown.

And so it finally arrived and instantly, one track in, it's everything fans could have wanted. Blisteringly bold and exciting with that distinctive ebb and flow of jagged, soaring guitars and that unrelenting, tumultuous tom-tom. The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie is about as perfect an opening you could ask for with a confident onslaught of grandiose guitars, drums and a mighty vocal delivery from the band's front-woman Ritzy Bryan.

Things don't stop there either as the band get straight into The Magnifying Glass, another unstoppable rock rendition. If The Joy Formidable's live performances have taught us anything it's that they love to throw themselves into their music, hit everything harder, faster and more frantically than you might expect of such a delicate-looking three-piece. This is arguably the band's biggest appeal, an unexpectedly epic and captivating sound despite the gentle, indie-pop appearance, and it's brilliant to behold.

A couplet of familiar songs soon follow with the band's recent attempt at a Christmas song I Don't Want To See You Like This and their first ever single Austere. The latter proves that the band have remained consistent in crafting their energetic, full-bodied sound. In fact, in a rather fitting testament to their unwavering sense of style and sound Austere is to be the first single released, or re-released, to promote The Big Roar.

Peaking both lyrically and musically in the middle of the album is A Heavy Abacus. It's a sensational indie-pop song with the sort of lyrical poetry that put The Joy Formidable up there with the best of them. Much like Wild Beasts Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt make facts of modern life seem so special and a delight to listen to. “Here we are, bending feet/in the dark, before dreamless sleep/happiness, it won't last long” conjures a poetic picture of a typical Friday night, it's immediate bliss and the reality of it's momentary enjoyment.

After another fan-favourite from the trio in Whirring charges through it's rapturously heavy chorus, Buoy and Maruyama follow. Buoy is one of the weaker tracks on the album offering little more than a head-nodding heavy riff but Maruyama is an intriguingly gentle moment of respite. It feels perfectly placed too as arguably the band's greatest track to date follows; Cradle.

At this point it seems vital to say that the earlier material that lays strewn across the album aren't simply the old recordings from 'Balloon. They're ever so slightly tweaked and refined and show a dedication to getting everything just right. Cradle and A Heavy Abacus battle it out for the title of “best bit” and I think in time the latter will slowly but surely take the crown. Nevertheless, to be on par with is a fantastic achievement, both are exemplary of the immense indie-pop anthems the band are capable of.

The two remaining brand new additions Llaw = Wall and Chapter 2 show the two alternative routes the band could have taken across the entire album. Chapter 2 overdoes things ever so slightly with a slightly uncontrolled, frantic approach whilst Llaw = Wall plays things a tad too safe with a radio-friendly riff. Perhaps these are the two 'growers' of the album but my initial reaction to them is somewhat mixed in comparison to the eight or nine stunners before them.

And with yet more nostalgia for the TJF hard core the album closes with The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade. It had to be on there, not only for the fact that a debut from the band would feel lost without the grandeur of the track, but also because it, like Cradle is the kind of track to make newcomers fall in love with them and the 'Formidable' faithful fall in love all over again.

It's a shame it's January because this being 'the album of 2011' has little meaning so early on, but I am confident this will still be the case in 12 months time. The Big Roar should be the start of an even bigger future.