Some bands enter the world with a howl. Other times, a band kicks it off with a moan that erupts into a roar. Sometimes, that roar is The Big Roar. Such is the story of the Welsh indie rockers The Joy Formidable. Since hitting the scene with their debut EP A Balloon Called Moaning in 2009, the alt-rockers have worked their way onto the radio, embarked on international tours with some of the biggest rock and roll acts in the world, and released a pair of albums that refuse to let up with their feedback-driven ambience and power chord onslaught.
The Joy Formidable is the brainchild of guitarist/singer Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan and bassist Rhydian Dafydd – childhood friends and former band-mates from Tricky Nixon (a Manchester, England-based indie band). Originally rounded out by drummer Justin Stahley, they released their first EP A Balloon Called Moaning in 2009 and began touring. Eventually replacing Stahley with Matthew James Thomas, the Joy Formidable released their first album The Big Roar in 2011, and have been on the rise ever since.
The trio have built quite the reputation since their first album. Ritzy, Rhydian, and Matt give the cheekiest of interviews, often spacing dry humor out with statements about the band’s humble origins and rigid individualism – it’s a band that’s been built from the ground up into what it is, and they’ll be damned if anyone challenges that. They live out that creed through each recording; every Joy Formidable album is a monument to their growth as musicians and as people, not caring if people aren’t going to like them for it. It’s why they write off the rare negative Pitchfork review with little care.
Musically, they’ve become a noted anomaly; the Joy Formidable isn’t a band that can be easily defined. Ritzy’s guitar playing screams of a style lost between the punks and shoegazers, while Rhydian drives the songs with subtle-yet-not-really-subtle bass playing. Matt, meanwhile, drums with a praise-worthy thrashing reminiscent of a level-headed Keith Moon. The Joy Formidable have been known to switch between riff-heavy rock (“Maw Maw Song”), punk jams (“Chapter 2”), acoustic ballads (“Silent Treatment”), and shoegaze breakdowns (“Whirring”), all with ambient, dream-like backgrounds,. It’s caught the attention of many – including Foo Fighters and Nirvana veteran Dave Grohl (who called “Whirring” the best song of 2011) and alternative prog-rockers Muse, both of whom have taken the band on tour with them.
The Big Roar – 2011
Kicked off with the epic “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie,” the Joy Formidable’s first full album doesn’t let up for a second. Pigeonholed by some as dream pop, the album transcends simple definitions as it weaves in and out of conflicting emotions and a tattered subconscious with the feedback and power of a space-bound Nirvana. The only complaint about this album can be found in the same relentlessness that makes it so great – the “wall of sound” that drives The Big Roar refuses to let up. The softest moment on the album, “Llaw=Wall”, lasts only a minute before things return to TJF’s formidable thunder. But, they definitely know how to write a kickass song – Dave Grohl wasn’t kidding around when he touted “Whirring” as the song of the year.
Key songs: “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie,” “A Heavy Abacus,” “Whirring,” and “Chapter 2”
Wolf’s Law – 2013
“Wolff’s Law” is the anatomical idea that bones become stronger under stress. Such is the theme of the Joy Formidable’s sophomore album Wolf’s Law, where the battles the band fought to survive (both personal and physical) have caused the Welsh trio to grow and mature into new fields. Backed by dream-inducing synthesizers, they rock through “This Ladder Is Ours” and pour their hearts out on the acoustic “Silent Treatment.” The Joy Formidable may get heavy with the abstract realism on here, but the landscapes they paint are massive in sound. “Maw Maw Song” and “Forest Serenade” are huge, orchestra-backed songs, with some powerful melodies that continue the groundwork left by The Big Roar.
Key songs: “This Ladder Is Ours,” “Silent Treatment,” “Maw Maw Song,” and “Forest Serenade”
The Joy Formidable aren’t strangers to EPs, singles, and soundtracks, either. Their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” and their single “Greyhounds in the Slips” are worth the listen.