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The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar (Atlantic)

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It’s a discipline and a belief, this kind of guitar music and those who have tramped along to The Joy Formidable’s live shows the past couple of years, hungry for this debut, know this. They’re searching for something special and actually, they’re not desperate for innovation. Most of their followers are content to coast on the tradition of Ride and 4AD. But the problem is, this Welsh trio aren’t in the same league as Ride, or even the less inspired add-ins of 4AD, such as The Pale Saints, and vocally they lack the beauty of Throwing Muses. More recently, Rose Elinor Dougall at least dips her toe into this territory.

However, The Joy Formidable have their own ambition. This is primarily to be an energetic band but they fall solemnly short of shooting with force. The album starts with the slow, prog build of ‘The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie’. We’re left wondering what they’re building to – what they could be but don’t seem to be? If you’re nostalgic for guitar sounds of the late 80s and early 90s, you may be better off going home, turning your back on the world, running a hot bath and listening to Ride.

With their insipid dirge, even The Pale Saints evoked thoughtful emotion. But in trying to concede to their agenda, it’s hard to feel energised by The Big Roar either. In the past  The Joy Formidable had a few good ideas but it feels like they’ve used them up with their first singles and have run out of steam.

Is it then too harsh to say their force has gone? Thankfully, bassist Rhydian Dafydd takes over for the best track, ‘Llaw =Wall’. His voice soothes and in the shoe-gazing tradition, this song, at least, has feeling.

Live, they’ve been erratic. Last year, at The Electric Ballroom after much anticipation for the next great London live show – they disappointed. This was more to do with lousy equipment than anything else but compared to a year earlier when they rocked Camden (and Camden venues aren’t famed for their glorious sound systems), such comparisons raise questions.

Now, they’re a little too mannered, too controlled. Still unsure about what it is they want us to like about them, we’re equally confused. And if there were more guitars around, their fans might not like them as much as they do.

Why not listen to the first Garbage album instead? You could do worse.

2 Responses to The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar (Atlantic)

  1. Lucy Cage March 20, 2011 at 12:13 am

    I wrote this on Facebook too, and I’m interested to hear what others think about comparing The Joy Formidable with early 90s guitar rock: I agree that the album, in re-working and extending some of the songs, hasn’t the pop punch of the EPs, but it’s curious to me that Suzy mentions Ride and, more peculiarly, Pale Saints. The Guardian reviewer did too (in the comments, after I had been rude to him about calling TJF shoegaze: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/jan/20/joy-formidable-big-roar-review?INTCMP=SRCH). I’d argue fairly vociferously that (early) Pale Saints were very far from “inspid”, “dirge”-like or “less inspired” than Ride. They were clever, contrary bastards.
    But anyway, and much more to the point, Ritzy just fucking rocks! She’s a force of nature, a bonafide guitar goddess and would stomp over anonymous, fringey, shoey boys in joyous, in-yer-face abandon. I don’t see any comparison with Kristin Hersh, except for the fact they are both rare examples of female singer/lead guitarists: closer, perhaps, is a friend’s suggestion of early PJ Harvey, being similarly gloriously big-mouthed, ballsy, dirty pop stars, who share a canny appreciation of unusual time signatures. Ritzy makes me grin my head off when she plays: she’s so bloody bouncy!

  2. han March 20, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Not too sure about this band… want to like them… but it’s hard… something’s missing for me.

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