Review Summary: An impressive full length which will inevitably be one of the year's strongest debuts.
The UK hype train is a well documented circus, and regularly comes under criticism for its tendancy to over-expose decidedly average acts. Of course, there are also instances when the fuss is justified, but such is the unforgiving nature of the nations press that by the time some of these artists release their debut albums their time in the spotlight has passed them by. One of these unfortunate bands are Welsh three-piece The Joy Formidable, who have generated a virtually constant buzz ever since they formed in 2007, having released a handful of singles and an excellent mini-album, A Balloon Called Moaning. Within the UK, they have been labeled as indie rock’s new great hopes by the NME among others, but sadly they hype seems to have fizzled out and been passed on to fresher faces such as The Vaccines and – god forbid – Brother. If there’s any justice, though, a resurgence should be just around the corner, as the band has delivered upon every initial expectation and produced what will inevitably be recognized as one of the years best debuts.
Listening to The Big Roar, it’s easy to see why they garnered so much early attention. While not especially innovative or experimental, the band’s sound is a hugely effective mash up of UK indie such as The Subways and Blood Red Shoes and shoegaze, with a few elements of American grunge thrown in for good measure. The trio are all evidently sound with their respective instruments, while vocalist Ritzy Bryan’s soft and sweet singing proves an interesting contrast with her loud buzzing guitar riffs. Add onto that the strong but not-overly polished production, and you get is probably what a collaboration between My Bloody Valentine and Nirvana would have sounded like in 1991. Music may have moved on since the days of Nevermind and Loveless, but their influence remains immeasurable, and the fact that this record has come twenty years after is more than made up for by the quality of the material on it.
The album is book ended by its two strongest and most ambitious songs, The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie and The Greatest Life Is The Greatest Shade. The former is a terrific display of the bands tenancy to create catchy and hummable melodies over a backlog of guitar noise, which contributes to a particularly epic closing section, while the latter (one of four tracks which previously appeared on their mini album) makes great use of soaring synths to create a genuinely moving soundscape. The ten songs crammed in between, however, are no means filler, and indeed some come tantalizingly close to reaching these hefty standards. A Heavy Abacus, for instance, is the records most anthemic moment, consisting of a monumental chorus executed with the confidence of a band far further into it’s career, while one-time single Cradle skips along joyfully and provides the albums most upbeat number. Like the vast majority of albums, there are some less remarkable moments, but overall this is an impressively consistent offering, especially bearing in mind that it’s their debut. It’s also commendable that they resisted including all of their existing singles here, with last years Popinjay correctly being excluded, whilst they have chosen well from the pool of songs previously released on their mini-album.
Whether The Joy Formidable go on to have the illustrious careers they were initially predicted remains to be seen, but with a string of excellent releases and now this impressive LP, they’ve certainly given themselves a great start. The relative drop in anticipation may not have done them much good in terms of coverage, but sometimes things like that can actually turn out to benefit bands, and exaggerated expectation is something that everyone could do without. Thankfully, The Big Roar is a record strong enough to overcome a false start, and with a little luck it should deliver the band the recognition and success that they deserve.