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The Joy Formidable: The Big Roar
There are various theories on how a band should structure an album. Some critics like to see a bell-curve kind of energy distribution, while others prefer to see a group start off with their most intense tracks and play off that vibe for the rest of the record. On their debut album, The Joy Formidable turns that model on its head, beginning The Big Roar with a minute of bizarre, apparently random ambient noise, and finishing the album with the most memorable single to date.
The Joy Formidable fits neatly into two visible trends in the contemporary rock scene. First, the band consists of only a few people, with an awesome female singer on the microphone. Second, the band sounds like it consists of twice as many people as it actually does, making use of electronic synthesizers to create chorus-like background melodies that hide the fact it’s still music created by the classic, bare-bones, guitar-bass-drums line-up.
The Big Roar boasts a handful of notable hits. A couple of the best songs, such as 'Austere' and 'Whirring' appeared previously on the band’s eight-track teaser record A Balloon Called Moaning. Of the brand new tracks, the most original are probably 'Heavy Abascus' and 'Llaw = Wall', which is also one of the only tracks to feature a second vocalist in addition to Ritzy Bryan. Once it gets going, even the leadoff track, 'The Ever-changing Spectrum of Lie' is a highlight that comes in at an even 7.5 minutes.
Still, as mentioned earlier, it is actually the finale of the twelve-song album,'The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade' that strikes out as the catchiest, best produced single. After a couple of listens, good luck getting the refrain of 'This dream is/ This dream is/ This dream is in a telescope now' out of your head. It’s no coincidence that this song also mixes the best elements of the album as a whole: heavy background chords and drums covered with a pop hook and stadium rock effects.
Bryan, The Joy Formidable’s lead singer, is one-part Emily Haines (Metric) and one-part Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins). Combined with guitar progressions that would not be out of place on 90s albums such as Melancholy, The Joy Formidable’s music sounds like other female-led bands such as Metric and The Jezabels; but with more angst injected.
Overall, The Big Roar is a strong debut full-length record for a group that is certain to get more press and attention as they tour and lay down more songs in the studio. The worst thing about the record is actually that it occasionally sounds under-produced; the band seems to have settled for simple, mediocre effects where they could have spent more time innovating. For this reason in particular, The Big Roar does not reach the groundbreaking level of some other acts in the genre, but is enough to leave fans eagerly awaiting their follow-up recording.
Just ask Guns ‘n Roses’ Axl Rose or try and listen to any recent Korn album without cringing. Many bands quit (R.E.M., Sonic Youth), others tone down their sound (Metallica) and some keep regurgitating what they’ve been doing for decades (The Rolling Stones).
Kim Thayil’s guitar traditionally wails around on the dissonant side of the spectrum and singer Chris Cornell still deals out high-pitched screeches like a rock version of Celine Dion – but they have audibly matured. And considering that the grunge kids of two decades ago have aged with them, many will appreciate this more grown-up, adult sound.
After 52 minutes, one question remains: now that Soundgarden seems to have arrived at their definitive sound, will they become one of those established bands that don’t evolve anymore? Like fellow Seattle-ites Pearl Jam, or grandfathers of rock Aerosmith, for example. Or will they continue to develop their sound, like Muse or Radiohead?
Ever since the 2012 release of their double a-side single, ‘Flying To Berlin/Husbands’, Savages have occupied an interesting space in the musical spectrums. With a mixture of old school post-punk and noise rock, they appear to be the perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans. Their frenetic, dark, and sinisterly beautiful style has been receiving rave reviews the world over from critics and fans alike and their latest EP Adore Life is more of the same.
This is an album about love, but one would hesitate to call any of the tracks traditional love songs. Instead of falling into classic song writing tropes about how amazing love is, Savages instead approach the subject matter from a much darker perspective. This is an album about the true power of love, nd how that isn’t always a good thing.
The opening track, ‘The Answer’, heaves with energy from the get go, telling the story of an almost obsessive infatuation, with frontwoman Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) repeating the words “If you don't love me/You don't love anybody” throughout the song just to drive home the fact that love can be a dangerous force. The hectic instrumentation provides a binary opposition to Beth’s sweet tones and is the perfect start to the record.
That is not to say that Adore Life is unrelenting in its aggression. This album is a mixture of forceful distortion, British post-punk and torch songs, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the song ‘Adore’. It’s slow, it’s bassy, it’s reverby (is that even a word?) it’s dark, but above all, beautiful. Concluding with a lyrical coda accompanied by a slow crescendo, it sounds like something you would hear in a smoky Paris café at 3AM. Make no mistakes, this is an early contender for one of the best songs of 2016.
Even towards the end of the album, they manage to keep the energy up. The penultimate track, ‘T.I.W.YG’, is almost a sequel to ‘The Answer’ in terms of style and narrative. The instrumentation provides an organised cacophony to truly drive home the fact that, this is what you get when you mess with love.
For what is only a second album, Adore Life shows a surprising maturity from the London-based female foursome. The lyrics are emotive without being contrived, the instrumentation is varied without being schizophrenic and the style is classic without being clichéd. This is more neo-post punk as opposed to post-punk revival and thank god it is, because the last thing we need is another attempt to revive a past genre. Remember the comment about the band being perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans? This album hits the nail on the head, being equal parts a love song to the past and an ode to the fuzzy future.