The way the Internet hype cycle interlocks with the British music mag hype cycle is something that is probably being studied by some media nerd at the University of Chicago right now, but we know this: Joy Formidable were one of the British press’ favorite causes in 2008-2009, and the Internet’s favorite Brits in early 2010, but they have since been replaced with seriously grave stuff like Mumford & Sons. And that dumping of Joy Formidable makes sense, in some respects: It’s been three years since the Wale three-piece first started getting noticed, and it’s just now that they’re issuing their debut album. Three years is a long time to ask the U.K. press and the Internet blognoscenti to sit on their hands.
Joy Formidable didn’t change in the interim, that’s for sure: The Big Roar is full of the grungy, balls-out and thunderous choruses, wind-ups, and shout-alongs that the band has delivered from the jump. But it also displays the same problems that plagued the band’s A Balloon Called Moaning EP: A lack of depth beyond the singles, songs that blow up in a mist of shredding chords, and some of the most obtrusively loud production you’ll hear this year. The Big Roar is, in other words, the perfect encapsulation of Joy Formidable in the last three years, warts and all.
The Big Roar doesn’t get any better than its first half, which features a maelstrom of whooshing singles, from EP standouts “Austere” and “Whirring,” to newish stomping single “A Heavy Abacus.” What made/makes Joy Formidable so attractive is their rampant ‘90s revivalism: There are points here when it feels like you’ve fallen into a time warp and it’s 1993, when music seemed so Important, and things like distorted guitars, production that is as loud as a jumbo jet and songs with titles like “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” seemed like they were going to change popular culture. Singer Ritzy Bryan picks up the riot-grrl torch and shoves it in a tub of gasoline, caterwauling here in a way that doesn’t seem possible from a diminutive lady of Wales.
The Big Roar fails to live up to the first half of the album, once a sense of familiarity creeps into the proceedings, and attempts at ballads (“Maruyama”) and letting one of the dudes sing (“Llaw=Wall”) fall flat. But it’s as good an introduction to the band as those 2008 singles were; sometimes thrilling, sometimes disappointing, but always formidable.
Don't get scared when people start throwing the word "grunge" around in reference to Welsh threesome The Joy Formidable -- all it really means is that they work up a nice, dirty, beefy guitar tone for their tunes. There's nothing remotely Seattle '93 about them. All that fuzz surrounds some delicious pop melodies, delivered by the undeniably sweet-voiced Ritzy Bryan. The band made a big splash with their indie debut A Balloon Called Moaning in 2009 -- big enough to end up on the boutique imprint of a major label for The Big Roar -- here's hoping success doesn't go to their heads.