2 April 2016

The Joy Formidable - Hitch

The “difficult” third album – something of a curse to alternative rock bands.  Sometimes the band manages to pull something spectacular out of the bag – Pearl Jam ‘Vitolagy’, Nirvana ‘In Utero’, (as much as I hate to admit it) Radiohead ‘OK Computer’ (I still prefer ‘The Bends’, but I cannot deny that ‘OK Computer’ is a great album) – and sometimes they release something that does not quite make it – Led Zeppelin ‘III’, PJ Harvey ‘To Bring My Love’, Vampire Weekend ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ – however, if you want to continue to be an artist, then it is something that people will have to face at some point.  So is the case for The Joy Formidable at this time in their careers, which has been a strong career so far.  Their first two albums have been praised and rightly so, with a string of acclaim, big shows and making in roads around the world.  But, there have been prices to pay to achieve these goals, relationships fractured, tours around the world took their toll and the band took their time with the album.  So, the band went back to Wales and recorded the album in the old home of Ritzy Bryan; it feels like they were attempting to return to their roots, to make it as homely as possible.  They also decided to produce the album themselves, a brave move and it makes a change from the multi-produced album that people love to release these days.  So, how will this album from one of my favourite acts going turn out…...

Starting the album is “A Second in White” which I did struggle with upon the first few listens, not because of the performance as that is spot on as normal.  Ritzy Bryan laments about various topics, the band give a griping performance that sounds like an alternative rock “A Whiter Shade of Grey” (this is not a slight, it shares a similar tone in place and I love both songs) with a slow lament in places to combat the manic drumming from Matthew Thomas and supporting bass from Rhydian Dafydd.  I guess it is because I did not receive the instant hit that came from “This Ladder Is Ours” from ‘Wolf’s Law’ or “The Everlasting Spectrum of a Lie” from ‘The Big Roar’, even though both of those tracks are longer than “A Second in White”.  But this is not saying that this is a poor track in comparison, it is just a different song which deserves and warrants further listens to gauge it and once you have it, it is a great opening number but one you have to respect and take your time with.  “Radio of Lips” is a song that also takes a few spins to get into, the opening almost had a classic punk piece of drumming until we are thrown into a swirling indie rock anthem that The Joy Formidable excel at producing.  But it is a slow burner that takes a few listens to work its way into your head and maybe your heart if you let it.  But it is truly worth the effort once again, with a fierce pace to the main section of the song and a set of lyrics that could make people very uncomfortable if they realise it might be about them. “The Last Thing on My Mind” was the lead single from this album, the long intro which sounds as if the band are getting ready in the studio might not be to everyone’s taste, but once the falling bass starts and the band kick out the jams (so to speak).  The song (much like the predecessors) is one that took me a while to get into, but I did not mind that at all (again, much like the predecessors) as it is songs like that which tend to stay with you the most.  It has a Muse vibe to some of the passages on this song, the guitars sound fantastic towards the end as they rush to meet the oncoming peak which is coming towards the listener, the whole band sound incredible on this number and it is another which I have returned to since the first listen and found more about it on each listen. – still not sure why the studio bit was in though, but that is just my tastes.  With a solemn piano introduction and acoustic guitar “Liana” is the first song on the album which I got in the first instance, its dark and moody demeanour is something I could instantly understand and appreciate.  It is pieces like this which I love from The Joy Formidable, they take you on an emotional journey and thrown in some passages where they rock out and at other times they have a moment where you are left to reflect and the beautiful music which is unfolding in front of you.  It has some tones about it which are almost gothic in places, the light and dark clashes beautifully and it (like its other brethren) just get better with each listen.

“The Brook” is a song which sound like it could have been made for an epic western, with an acoustic vibe that is wrapped with beautiful guitars (bass, acoustic & electric), dynamic drums and a strong narrative to the lyrics that give it a dream edge.  It is one of strongest track here, giving me hope that a fully acoustic album by The Joy Formidable would hopefully become a reality sooner rather than later; I think their songs would transfer well to the medium and this song shows that (as I always guessed) that they can create this sort of piece.  Speaking of dynamic drumming, “It Started” has one of those opening which would not be out of place on the beginning of the musical “Stomp” or a drum solo from Rush –  Matthew Thomas, well done sir, well done!  The riff is just as huge as the drum introduction and the song feels like it could have actually been the lead track for the album instead of track six, but that is a personal thing to be honest.  Another story of a relationship in flux, the voice of Ritzy Bryan sounds as if she is unaware that she is currently singing through a storm, as she is whispering as if the room is deathly quiet.  The music is a great and full of various shifts and pitches that give it a fluid sound that is akin to ‘Wolf’s Law’; however, it took the standard few goes to get into the song once more, but the euphoric moment when it all fell into place outweighed the time it took to get to that point in the first place.  ”The Gift” slows things down with a sombre piece that has vocals supplied by Rhydian Dafydd and it is a moment of sadness and reflection on the album that takes the listener to the side, just to make them focus on the feelings underneath the notes and within themselves.  The fall out of any relationship is hard, especially when you are with that person in a professional capacity, this track is a graceful moment where there is no blame, no anger, nothing but love and the lose that comes with it.  It is a track which I would label as mood dependent which has nothing to do with the performance at all, but I know that in the future there will be times when this track (as well-crafted as it is) would have to be passed.  However, bonus marks for making a guitar solo that reminds me of Dire Straits and the emotions that come from the guitar, this is not a bad thing for me as there is pure quality to the solo at the end of this song.   To counter act this, we are launched straight into “Running Hands with the Night” and I am hearing a familiar pattern to the riff from the very beginning.  With a sense of “Whirring” to the tone, this song sounds as if it is a bit frustrated with itself.  There is something happening beneath the surface of the song that makes it very hard to put your finger on, maybe there is pain on here which is very fresh and a little too raw to process – but you get a sense that all is not well in the world with this song.  It is also a long track which could have been trimmed a beat or two, but that is another personal taste thing – it is still well played, but something is unsettling about this one.

“Fog (Black Windows)” digs deeper into the melancholic vein that has been delved into on this album, it is a song that has expectations to the sound, but it does not explode in a way which you expect from the Joy Formidable.  Instead of hitting the distortion peddle, the melodic side of the band has been given a spotlight in this song which brings to mind bands such as All About Eve & The Cure.  It drifts like fog for me, it is all strange and not quite as it should be and I am still trying to make up my mind with it – I have a feeling this might be the case for a long while to come with this track.  “Underneath The Petal” is another gentle/acoustic number, with a beautiful acoustic lament about the dark waters that seem to erupt when a relationship reaches a bad conclusion, with piano, strings and flute the band give one of the best performances of the album.  It is a broken heart on display for all to view, it is hard to listen to and will once again be too much to take at times; but it is one of the moments on this album that I get straight away, however, it is also one of the moments which stays just a little too long after the song finished as it reached a natural crescendo and then the guitars kept going.  It is a little bit strange, but it does not stop the song from being one of my favourites on the record.  The penultimate song is called “Blowing Fire” which brings back the stomping, alternative rock sound back to the arena on this song.  It has a sound that is instantly familiar with everything that band have done previous to this album, it has that mixture of emotion, distortion and massive riffs that have always made this band stand out for me in this age of electronic focused indie music.  The dripping riff at times sends shivers down my spine, the heart break is stunning and the emotional peak is crafted as good as anything that the band have created before – this is where the band are in full flight and it is a massive boast to this album in its closing moments.  “Don’t Let Me Know” ends this album with a reflection that showcases the heartbreak of the album, starting with an acoustic driven reflection and with a request to be spared the pain when the former lover has moved on, which is something I think everyone can understand.  At the halfway juncture, the shoegazing/dream pop side of the band take over and the build towards the final ending is a long journey which they actually get the length right and it all falls together just right.  It has a similar vibe in terms of sound to “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead, it is a mixture of two sides to this band that shows they are not just about one thing – I was not too sure to begin with, but it ends the album at the right place.

I think that this album is a good album with problems – sometimes it is about knowing when to stop a song and when the moment has naturally come to a close, something that the band have been able to do on past releases and seem to have lost on this one for the most part.  I love this band, truly they are one of my favourite acts since I heard ‘The Big Roar’ and ‘Wolf’s Law’ is one of those albums which keeps on growing in my estimation with each listen.  But this album does feel difficult, it has the typical “difficult” third album syndrome that is something I could only hope they would have avoided to be honest.  Maybe the decision to self-produce was not the wisest they could have done and a second ear outside of the band could have helped, as I mentioned before there are moments that could be improved with just a few beats being removed.  But I will also say that this does not seem like a band in fall, they still have a fire in there which is burning and I know that they will prove the critics (including myself here) wrong.   For me I hope this album grows in my mind and the band make me eat my words, however it is just a good album which I would still recommend people to purchase.  I still hope for an acoustic album from the band, they have that in them and it would be interesting to hear.  Till then, I will keep listening because there are some good (but painful) moments on here and I still love the band; however, the lingering feelings about the album stay and I wish it was different.

7 out of ten – This is good and worth checking out.

Top track – Blowing Fire

You can purchase Hitch from Amazon here.

You can visit the Joy Formidable website here.

You can follow the activities of the Joy Formidable on Facebook here.

At the time of writing, Hitch is not currently available on streaming sites - but if that changes I will up it here.  However, you should purchase the album anyway if you want to hear it.

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