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Album Review: The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar (Canvasback/Atlantic)

The Welsh trio’s debut album moves on from their luscious dream-pop to fully embrace stadium-heavy epicness

Album Review: The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar (Canvasback/Atlantic)

In the time since Welsh trio The Joy Formidable first strapped on a couple of guitars and decided that the amps should probably be knocked up to 11, we’ve managed to suck in and spit out new rave, shit-gaze, dream-pop, witch-house and all manner of other questionably monikered peaks and troughs. Yet somehow it’s only now that the band have finally emerged to stake their own claim with a
full-length album.

Led by rock’s new heroine Ritzy Bryan, and swathed in swirling guitarscapes and momentous walls of sound, ‘The Big Roar’ is the kind of epic-yet-intimate debut that does exactly what its title makes out in the most tactful of styles; an LP that ultimately delivers on every count on the four years of promise leading up to it – primarily in its gutsy, chest-swelling brilliance and partly because, well, you’ll probably be sufficiently acquainted with a fair few of the tracks already.

On paper, the decision to include four offerings from 2009 album ‘A Balloon Called Moaning’ appears a strange one; for an album such a long time coming it almost seems like laziness to offer up tracks that anyone who’s followed the band will have heard before and, let’s face it, hardly show the trio in their current state. On record however, the logic falls into place. From their 2008 debut single ‘Austere’, to the host of newer tracks, ‘The Big Roar’ is a comprehensive overview of how far they’ve come and how much more they have to offer; even between the three previously released singles there’s a marked progression that sets the tone for the rest of the album that winds between them. Where ‘Austere’ bounces along with a dreamy, indie-pop lightness, ‘Cradle’ intensifies proceedings with a driving drumbeat to contrast with the pop sensibilities. ‘Whirring’, meanwhile, is a full-on, slow-build assault, a sprawling, emotive sonic landscape; TJF’s throbbing ‘Spanish Sahara’ if you will.

It’s in this seven-minute, swelling centrepiece that the album hits its peak while the newer material that surrounds it suggests that Bryan and co may still embrace their past but are more than content to look to the brooding future of what they’ve become. Opener ‘The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie’ begins in an ad-hoc, Sonic Youth-infused clatter of noise and wash of distorted guitars before unveiling the singer’s cooing vocal and a mammoth chorus, while the glorious ‘Buoy’ pits a spectral opening against a hauntingly Joy Division-esque guitar part (but really, really loud) and ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ ends things in epic, lighters-aloft style with Bryan intoning how “a calm day will come” like the sweetest apocalypse.

The biggest curveball comes in the form of ‘Llaw=Wall’, a sombre affair sung by Dafydd that strips away the layers before kicking into a desperately soaring chorus. It may be an anomaly, but it’s essential in showing The Joy Formidable’s true ethos. Here, you see, is a band that have ended up sounding stadium-ready by default; their music may be massive but the intentions and emotions beneath it are firmly rooted in the ground. Like The Breeders’ shoegaze-obsessed offspring, the trio have found themselves somewhere that embraces pop and then throws it into a pit of reverb and makes it squall for mercy. It’s big but it’s certainly clever, and at a time when Arcade Fire, a band who by their own admission have “never had a hit record”, can sell out arenas on pure levels of heart and guts alone, then surely The Joy Formidable have everything to aim for. Hear them roar.

Lisa Wright


Click here to get your copy of The Joy Formidable's 'The Big Road' from Rough Trade Shops.

8 out of 10

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Video: The Joy Formidable - 'Austere' (NME Exclusive)

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