My expectations & hopes for its follow-up, Wolf's Law, were absurdly, ridiculously high - but somehow the band has met them - and perhaps even blown them away.
The album, which comes out next week, expands a bit on the Welsh trio's already stellar sound: propulsive bass and drums courtesy of Rhydian Daffyd & Matt Thomas set the percussive tones - ones that provide the groundwork for Ritzy Bryan's buzzy, spinning guitar-playing and defiant, soaring vocals.
Take the smashing 1-2 punch of opener/lead single This Ladder is Ours and Cholla. The Ladder is Ours kicks the record off with a bang, pushing the melodies and rhythms skyward as the song arpeggios higher and higher, led by its riff. Cholla's power is even more resonant: flittery drum hits and a crunchy, almost hard-rock guitar riff drive the song, which has something to do with fate, impermanence, and the flow of time.
The Big Roar was characterized by some seriously epic songs that leaned a bit toward dream-pop territory (A Heavy Abacus, the stirring Whirring and Austere), and Wolf's Law more or less picks up right where its predecessor left off - but without any downtime, really.
Tendons (Tendons who we are/tendons stretched too far) packs more emotive punch in its swaying, twisting guitars than most bands can accomplish on full albums (and features some really pretty instrumentation around the halfway point).
Not content to allow the listener to be lulled into a dreamlike state by their ability to craft seemingly effortless forays into musical etherealism, on comes a song like Little Blimp. A jarring bass riff and Ritzy's echoing vocals lead the way for the first minute or so, before it explodes into a driving, Muse-like hard rock stomp that must sound divine live.
The energy continues with the deliciously abrasive Bats (odd time signatures and challenging melodies abound), before the album's perfect midsection takes over.
I'll say this clearly: if Silent Treatment doesn't become a huge hit for the Joy Formidable, there really is no hope for the music business. They played a working version of this song at the Mayan in L.A. last year, and it was fantastic. The studio version, a slow, acoustic dirge showcasing a gorgeous vocal melody from Ritzy and some steady acoustic strumming, is one of those songs that can inspire shivers down the spine. Haunting, beautiful, and understated, Silent Treatment shows the band's depth in a way they hadn't really displayed thus far in their career.
Maw Maw Song, at nearly 7 minutes long, is quite a ride. It starts with Asian-inspired harps (or something that sounds like that) before giving way to a bouncy, groove-laden break - before changing AGAIN into something that can best be described as a roller-coaster of musical emotion. All along, Bryan's vocals change according to the rhythmic pulse - shouting, whispering, the whole bit. And just wait until the guitar solo kicks in.
Forest Serenade sounds just as its title would imply: whimsical, melancholy and upbeat (and it features some lush instrumentation throughout).
It's songs like The Leopard and the Lung that make the Joy Formidable so untouchable in my eyes (or ears, I suppose). A weird, almost spastic piano progression begins the song's slow but steady ascent, building and building and picking up steam, Bryan's whispery voice managing to sound quite...formidable (sorry) with its understated and hushed delivery. Daffid's backing vocals add a nice second dimension to the song's grabbing, resonant melody as well. This is easily one of the strongest songs on the record.
The Hurdle and The Turnaround cap off the record on a cathartic note: the former is led by a buoyant bassline and melody, while The Turnaround closes things with elegance and grace.
In a sentence: Wolf's Law is exceptionally well-rounded. The Joy Formidable excel at uptempo rockers that veer into dream-pop territory, and that's visited throughout the record. However, it's the more subdued moments (Silent Treatment, The Turnaround, Tendons) that really let their musical chops shine. They've become quite accomplished in the past few years, and it shows in this record's depth.
The Big Roar was a nearly untouchable debut record, but in many ways Wolf's Law is even more impressive - its songs swell, rise and come down, changing and morphing in tune with their themes of the cyclical natures of life, relationships, and impermanence - it's an emotional ride.
Preview the whole thing below, courtesy of Rolling Stone: