Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Joy Formidable: Wolf's Law

Every time I think the eight months I spent in France has FINALLY stopped ruining the pronunciation of normal, English things for me (like Harry Potter as Air-eee Pott-air and Disney character Kim Possible as Kim Poss-eee-ble), something like this band comes along.  Because while other people might see formidable as, you know, "formidable", I see it as "form-eee-dah-ble", or in other words "terrific, great" (from Word Reference).  Which make sense and all, but is probably neither the pronunciation nor the meaning this Welsh band intended when they chose their name (to be fair, in French formidable ALSO means formidable, it's just not nearly as common of a meaning).

Pronunciation issues aside, however, The Joy Formidable is, as mentioned, a Welsh band, one that's composed of Ritzy Bryan on vocals and guitar, Rhydian Dafydd on bass and backing vocals, and Matt Thomas on drums and percussion (per Wikipedia).  Furthermore, this is their second full-length album, and Rhapsody classifies their sound as "'00's Alternative", which strikes me as kind of hilarious, if for no other reason than the fact that their first record wasn't released until 2010.  Other than that, much of this album was written and recorded in rural Maine in the dead of winter, where the band fed an opossum and "learned how to make one chicken last for a week and a half" (according to an interview with Bryan on Pure Volume), and also includes Native American imagery.  The record title itself is a play on 'Wolff's Law", or the "scientific theory about the stress that is placed on bones, and how the bone adapts to different stresses and breakages" (once again, according to Bryan, but this time from an interview at AltMusicHub), and in general, the idea behind this album is that it "chronicles a period of healing and trying to look optimistically to a near future".  So... You got all that?  Good.

As far as the music itself is concerned, there is a strong alternative vibe, with hints of hard '70's-style jamming, and the pairing of guitar, bass, drums and vocals on this album is anything but plain, often ranging from bombastic to spare in the course of a single song.  Furthermore, Bryan's voice most reminds me of Sixpence None the Richer's Leigh Nash, which adds an interesting touch of fragility to an otherwise in-your-face sound.  Standout tracks include "Little Blimp", which begins with a compelling but basic combination of drums, bass, and vocals ("Wind yourself/Wind yourself tightly to me"), and then works itself into a frenzied collision of '70s-reminiscent instrumentation with the introduction of the guitar.  "Maw Maw Song" opens with a plunking, Rusted Root-worthy intro before a mash-up of prog noodling and Zeppelin-esque vocal phrasing turn it into one of the most interesting/weirdest tracks on the album, and I'm only kind of ashamed to admit that a certain vocal riff in "Forest Serenade" so strongly recalls a similar structure in They Might Be Giants' "Till My Head Falls Off" that I felt compelled to note it.  Then there's "Bats", one of my favorite tracks on the record, which blends fuzzed-out vocals with a strong bass line and an infrequent but hedonistic guitar lick, although the blurry lyrics continue to allow me to believe that the line "I wanna be just like a pteranodon" is part of the song, despite multiple listens (what can I say, we watch a lot of Dinosaur Train).

All of that being said (and rather positively), I'm not really in love with this record.  My A-number-1 complaint is the vocals, which, despite Bryan's interesting tone, don't pop very often above the music (and you know how I love my lyrics to stand out).  Besides that, I guess it's just not really my niche, or whatever (either that, or I'm just super offended by the idea of them feeding 'possums, which are clearly meant to be dead by the side of the road) (I caught an opossum watching me shower once, I may still be bitter).  I really don't know.  Either way, this video will probably tell you everything you need to know, so you should watch it.  And decide for yourself.

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