Artist: The Joy Formidable
Title: Wolf's Law
Genre: Alternative Rock / Pop
Release Date: 25th January 2013
Formed in 2007, Welsh trio THE JOY FORMIDABLE caused something of a stir by the time debut album ‘The Big Roar’ arrived, fully formed, in 2011. A sugar-rush of power-pop, it was inventive and hugely enjoyable, and they soon became indie darlings in the alternative music press. The live shows that accompanied this release became a spectacle that was both exhausting and exhilarating to watch, and in vocalist Ritzy Bryan, a feisty media-magnet and furiously energetic front-woman. Inevitably, there has been much anticipation and expectation about the follow-up. Partly recorded in Wales, the remainder was completed in a log cabin in Maine. Raising questions about a new direction, perhaps ditching buzz-saw guitars for a pastoral sheen, is it possible they could have gone all Bon Iver on us in an attempt to increase credibility? Absolutely not. From the very beginning, this is clearly more of the same, the log cabin a curve-ball, perhaps just a little bit of well-earned rock band self-indulgence.
So, ‘Wolf's Law’ begins almost exactly where ‘The Big Roar’ left off. Opener ‘This Ladder is Ours’ melts into the belting ‘Cholla’, easily the equal twin cousins of standout track and single ‘Austere’, off the debut. A change of pace for ‘Tendons’, it's a polished enough pop song, ambling along and perfectly happy with itself. The problems become apparent by the fourth song, ‘Little Blimp’. A really rather charmless stomp, it doesn't seem to go anywhere or do anything, sitting pointlessly and looking confused at its existence. Mercifully short at less than three minutes, this is its saving grace, sadly. And things don't improve with ‘Bats’. It hurtles along at an impressive pace, but the deliberately murky fuzz of the production soon starts to grate. It isn't helped by the refrain 'I had a reason, but the reason went away', a somehow prophetic line that seems to encapsulate this non-song. Followed by the beautifully acoustic ‘Silent Treatment’, which showcases Ritzy's voice majestically, it looks all the more clumsy and loveless because of it. Perhaps more songs in the style of ‘Silent Treatment’ should pepper future releases, as this is clearly a strong point.
‘Maw Maw Song’ has the feel of a song written in two parts and assembled rather clumsily at some point. The faster part is good. The plodding section, nursery-rhyme irritating. The huge ending should be heralding the climax of something truly special, but it falls far too short to justify its length, and it easily outstays its already luke-warm reception. But then, thankfully, things pick up. ‘Forest Serenade’ is everything that made THE JOY FORMIDABLE so special in the first place. It shimmers and pulses wonderfully, and the melody is gorgeous throughout. It's the kind of song that seems to simply soar effortlessly, and it's by far the crowning achievement here. There's the feeling of a real band effort, and it's easy to imagine Ritzy, guitarist Rhydian and drummer Matt, almost literally bouncing off one another when this one gets aired in a live setting. Tough to follow, but ‘The Leopard and the Lung’ does a sterling job. It's a meaty shoegazing mid-tempo song, the vocals layered and patient, and it's another effort that will lend itself admirably to the live setting.
‘The Hurdle’, which follows, is THE JOY FORMIDABLE on default setting, a sweet vocal over loud/soft dynamics and it feels positively buoyant after some of the earlier sludge. Almost too little too late, but it does draw near to the finish line at a canter rather than a limp. And ending with ‘The Turnaround’ is an inspired move. A gorgeously measured paean in complete awe to the sixties, stripped back yet luxurious, it is vocally stunning and lazily beautiful. Building nicely to a close with some excellent percussion, it's everything this album could have been, all the right elements in the right place, finally. What seems to be missing the most from ‘Wolf's Law’ are a few killer riffs or a huge memorable chorus or two. If their debut was frenetic bubble-gum-rock, ‘Wolf's Law’ at times is chewing-gum, hardening on a bed-head. It tries, at times, to succeed on energy alone, and it has an endless supply there is no doubt, but what it really needs is more focussed songwriting. When it works, it's a definite joy, but there are too many times when it seems to be screaming “Look at me!” while half the room has got bored, and wandered quietly away.
01. This Ladder is Ours
04. Little Blimp
06. Silent Treatment
07. Maw Maw Song
08. Forest Serenade
09. The Leopard and the Lung
10. The Hurdle
11. The Turnaround
Ritzy Bryan – Vocals, Guitar
Rhydian Dafydd – Bass, Backing Vocals
Matt Thomas – Drums, Percussion
Total: 6.5 / 10