Monday, 21 January 2013

#15: The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law

The recording of a second album is a notoriously difficult experience for most bands; a task made all the more difficult for welsh trio The Joy Formidable after their incendiary début in 2011, The Big Roar, which included such fan favourites as 'Cradle' and the huge-sounding 'Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie'. There's no denying the passion and the vigour that went in to the making of their début and fortunately this second outing is business as usual. TJF take the sounds of late 80s early 90s alternative rock of bands such as The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine and merges it in to something truly beautiful.

Coming almost two years to the day after the release of The Big Roar, Wolf's Law is as polished as it is anthemic. Fans will already be familiar with album opener 'This Ladder Is Ours'. The track starts with a string ensemble before launching in to truly familiar territory. The song couldn't be anyone other than TJF. Singer Ritzy Bryan's silky vocals glide across the bass line and perfectly compliment a riff that well and truly embeds itself in your consciousness in much the same way as the chorus which you'll still be singing days later. The second track on the album 'Cholla' will again be familiar to fans of the band after it's release as a promotional single late last year. The vocals rise and fall, echoing Rhydian Dafydd's driving bass-line and giving the song a real depth which is perpetuated by Matt Thomas on drums.

While this album can easily be seen as an extension of their début, the production quality has increased tenfold and while The Big Roar can be viewed as the juvenile teenager in the front seat of roller-coaster of raw expressive emotion; Wolf's Law is the more introspective twenty-something with the world at his feet and a lump in his throat, relinquishing the shackles of adolescence and tentatively taking that first step in to a wider world.

Mid-way through, the album breathes in a delicate breath with the incredibly understated 'Silent Treatment'. A fantastically melodic acoustic number in which Ritzy's vocals really shine through, suggesting a maturity in the song-writing that wasn't present on their last record. 'Maw Maw Song' is where the album really grips you by the balls, however. Starting off with an Asian influenced harp melody that dissolves in to a crunching intro not dissimilar to T-Rex's 'Children of the Revolution' within seconds. The song breaks down and picks up again several times through the course of it's 6-and-a-half minutes, breaking down in to the kind of fretboard magic not-often scene in the throws of contemporary indie. However it isn't the contemporary that TJF have in mind and in doing so have truly crafted a modern-day alternative classic with an anti-consumerism message that should resonate with listeners that have any sense about them.

'Forest Seranade' is a return back to the stadium-filling sound that got the band noticed and truly holds it's own against the aforementioned 'Maw Maw Song'. Not only is 'Forest Serenade' a rousing song in it's own right, it's also a continuation of the albums themes of nature and preservation and blends fantastically in to 6-minute masterpiece 'The Leopard and the Lung' which draws it's influence from female Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, who has campaigned for women's rights as well as for the preservation of her home country. This is also the first track on album in which bassist Daffyd's vocals can truly be heard. They don't stand up to the saccharine sweetness of Ritzy's, but they work and add an extra layer of depth in a song that's already bursting with poignant energy.

Album closer 'The Turnaround' sees a return of the strings mentioned earlier, which, when coupled with a pounding bass drum, allow Ritzy's vocals to soar before dropping to a barely audible whisper. The lyrics of the song deal with the untimely death of Ritzy's grandmother, and so understandable the emotion in her voice is evident as the album draws to it's orchestral conclusion. The drumming on this track is the strongest it's been throughout the album and it's clear that a lot of time has been spent on the production, allowing Thomas to really hone his technique and create a sound that wouldn't be out of place on the type of Big Band records your grandparents listen to.

Fans may well have been disappointed by the apparent exclusion of titular track and promo-release Wolf's Law, which doesn't appear on the track listing. However, fear not, as it does make an appearance as a hidden track at the end of the album. Starting with an understated piano, the track builds up and before long becomes every bit something you've come to expect from the band. While nothing to rival 'Maw Maw Song' or 'Forest Serenade' the song does hold it's own and is a nice addition to an album that is already consistently good.

While the first half of the album certainly doesn't leave anything to be desired, it's the second half of Wolf's Law which really sees the band come in to their own. 'Maw Maw Song' is the obvious choice for a live-favourite, but that shouldn't take anything away from the rest of an album which can build up a wall of sound and then knock it down again with the most delicate of vocal tracks. In a scene that's filled with carbon-copy guitar bands and colloquial vocals, TJF are an air bubble on the surface of a pond so stagnated the bottom is barely visible, an air bubble that's waiting to break the surface and cause well-warranted ripples throughout the alternative scene and no doubt further afield.

Watch the official of 'This Ladder Is Ours' here