There’s not much that The Joy Formidable can’t do. Edit: there’s not much that The Joy Formidable can’t do well. Edit: there’s not much that The Joy Formidable can’t do extremely well. Dating back to their 2011 debut LP The Big Roar, this female-fronted British alternative rock trio has dabbled in the noisy, the ephemeral, the straight-up heavy and the acoustic, inviting comparisons to the Cocteau Twins, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleigh Bells and My Bloody Valentine, sometimes in the same song. Their fearless attitude earned them an opening slot on the Foo Fighters’ recent tour where they previewed songs from their new album AAARTH, due out September 28.
AAARTH begins with acerbic cacophony, leading to a quasi-industrial riff, supported by singer/guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan’s effects-laden desperation-evoking vocals. Drummer Matthew James Thomas’s beat quickens at the end before disappearing and letting co-founder and bassist Rhydian Dafydd have a bouncy moment in the spotlight. It’s an introduction, to be sure, an announcement that there are no rules in The Joy Formidable’s world. The next track, “The Wrong Side,” offers more of what fans have been led to expect (if they’ve been led to expect anything) from this band, including an indelible chorus and some shredding at the end that should get Bryan’s name listed among the leading axe-wielders in rock.
“Go Loving” drives nails into your head with a beat that’s as metal as anything else out there, though The Joy Formidable defies any one genre. “Cicada (Land on Your Back)” ladles Middle Eastern sounds that are reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s trippier work. The bottom drops out in the whispery and psychedelic “All in All,” but just as you start to get comfortable, Bryan’s guitar wails like a siren; you just know this song is gonna kick ass live*.
One of the more accessible songs on AAARTH is “The Better Me.” It goes from a Weezer-esque melody to guitar lick reminiscent of Kevin Shields, finally exploding in an attack of distortion. The band recently filmed a video for this song in the deserted backstreets of Las Vegas. Bryan describes the meaning behind “The Better Me” as “…a song about self-acceptance, living with your mistakes and appreciating how we all make up the whole and have something different to offer. A song of thanks to a loved one and a decision to love oneself.”
If you’re looking for a moody, piano-led number, your wish is granted in “Absence,” but just as you’re being lulled into a state of comfort, “Dance of the Lotus” jars you awake. AAARTH comes from the Welsh word for bear, “arth,” which follows suit alongside some of their other album titles (The Big Roar, Wolf’s Law), but it also approximates the primal approach of The Joy Formidable. These songs, though expertly crafted, are untamed and either ready to pounce or in a state of pouncing.
*The Joy Formidable is touring North America this fall, with a stop at Underground Arts in Philly on November 6. This reviewer is looking forward to seeing how these rich sounds translate on stage. Tickets and info here.