The Joy Formidable: The big roar (2011)


Sensaciones encontradas hemos sentido al escuchar atentamente este -por fin- álbum de debut del combo galés The Joy Formidable. Digo encontradas porque por un lado el grupo parece que ha decidido abandonar la senda del Dream-Pop enérgico que tan buenos resultados les dio en su primera entrega, A balloon called moaning (2009) (TJB, Febrero 2009), para entregarse a manos de un Indie-Rock de dimensiones épicas al estilo de Arcade Fire. Ésto es observable desde el primer tema del álbum, The everchanging spectrum of a lie, que tiene un inicio esperanzador, preñado de guitarras muy distorsionadas, pero que se va diluyendo conforme avanza, para terminar en un bucle sin demasiado sentido animado por las voces de una Ritzy Brian transmutada en una moderna Siouxie.
Otro de los puntos débiles del álbum es el hecho de que hayan decidido retomar todo su arsenal de temas anteriores para volver a incluirlos en esta nueva entrega: Austere, Cradle, I don´t want to see you like this, Whirring, The greatest light is the greatest shade. ¿Qué significado tiene ésto? ¿Que la banda tiene un repertorio limitado y no sabe cómo exprimir los nuevos temas? ¿Qué prefieren apostar por lo seguro regrabando en algunos casos estos temas añadiéndoles desarrollos instrumentales absurdos para prolongarles su duración, como en el caso de Austere? Desde luego, si ésta es la explicación, considero que se trata de un infantilismo evidente, porque esos temas ya funcionaron perfectamente en su anterior disco y era absurdo volver a incluirlos en un nuevo álbum que, además, presenta una línea estilística diferente a la de aquél.
Por lo demás, The big roar es un disco que se pierde en trucos de producción como el de la voz de Ritzy, que a veces suena demasiado superficial y distante. Trucos de grabación de guitarras que emulan a lo más pelmazo de los Smashing Pumpkins de mediados de los noventa. El único tema que salvo del desastre es The magnifying glass, que sin ser ninguna maravilla, en tanto que émulo de la banda de Billy Corgan, es salvable por su intensidad sonora y la fuerza de sus guitarras. El resto… me temo que no puedo ser demasiado benévolo con los temas, que me parecen demasiado ansiosos y épicos. Unir esta nueva colección con canciones que habían funcionado a las mil maravillas anteriormente me parece una temeridad y un desperdicio de tiempo. Me quedo con A balloon called moaning; ése sí era un gran disco.

The Joy Formidable – The big roar (2011)

“A man much wiser than me once said “All we have to decide, is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
And in an age where musical trends can change in the blink of an eye and fan loyalties can be swayed by the lightest of breezes, it seems little other than worrying that Welsh trio The Joy Formidable have waited over three years before putting out their debut proper.
It’s not like we’ve gone all this time without any spoils though – in early 2009 we were treated to the band’s mini album, A Balloon Called Moaning. Recorded in the shared bedroom of singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan and her bassist boyfriend Rhydian Dafydd, it surged with the searing energy that makes the band such a tenacious live prospect.
So then, one has to wonder exactly why it’s taken them so long to get The Big Roar together. Especially since four of the eight tracks from their previous release have been recycled here, most of them reappearing in an unradically altered state.
Previous singles ‘Austere’ and ‘Cradle’ remain intact and are all the better for it; the former an anthemic Pixies-channelling garage stomp, the latter an ebullient rocket-ride that could be a Blood Red Shoes track. Similarly, the biggest palpable modification to ‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade’ is Ritzy’s newly recorded vocal, still breathy and ethereal, only now intelligible – you can actually distinguish her intonation “This dream is, in a telescope now.” While the track is still a stunner: a juddering bassline beneath swirling blasts of shimmering electro-guitar, it’s now been stripped of the otherworldly quality it wielded when Bryan’s Emily Haines-esque purr was enveloped in swathes of shoe-gaze nuance.
But if anything was going to catch the attention of a Joe Public with a waning interest in guitar music, it was always going to be the soaring, giddy heights of ‘Whirring’. With this in mind, the appearance of previous material is less a surprise, more a logical inclusion – quite simply the best stuff in The Joy Formidable’s arsenal was written prior to sessions for The Big Roar.
Despite all this, as a complete body of work, the album stumbles in very few places. Volume is no substitute for heart- something The Joy Formidable are well aware of – but ‘Chapter 2’, despite being cranked to the max, manages to feel underwhelming as does the Rhydian – led ‘Llaw = Wall’. Both are akin to trying to smash a guitar, deep-down hoping it stays in one piece with the knowledge that in the morning you’ll have to pay to replace it.
But for the most part, these tracks burn with anthemic vivacity. ‘The Magnifying Glass’ is brilliant, a short burst of turbulence that shrieks as it twists turns and pounds round myriad sharp corners. Similarly ‘A Heavy Abacus’ features another apocalyptic chorus aimed firmly skyward amid waves of buzzing guitar while ‘Buoy’, a slow-burning seething beast, takes the pace off but not the muscle.
Recently someone on these very boards commented that ‘the most emotionally difficult job in music must be being a member of The Joy Formidable in which you forever teeter on the edge of mainstream acceptance.’ And The Big Roar’s eventual release was always going to pose more new questions about the band’s future than it was ever going to put old ones to bed. After all, it can’t have gone unnoticed by the band that they’ve found themselves consistently tipped for great things since their inception in 2007, yet haven’t quite managed to achieve popular acknowledgement.
But the real heart of TJF has always been captured on stage, where energy levels can run rabid. Undoubtedly The Big Roar is an album written with the live arena in mind. The epic, feedback-laden climaxes of ‘The Everchanging Spectrum of A Lie’ and especially ‘Whirring’ – here lengthened awesomely by over three frenetic minutes of reverb and dense riffs that build and swell toward a newly constructed apex – are enough to tell us that. And in an age where live prowess can be more profitable than record sales, maybe the way The Joy Formidable chose to spend their time was less misguided than shrewd decision” (

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