By Ian Cory
Bands like The Joy Formidable are often prisoners of rock mythology. They play unabashedly bombastic and thunderous riffs through highly distorted amps, and aren’t afraid to back them up with rolling double bass drums. They are, seemingly by accident, the answer to the prayers of aging rockists waiting for bands that “really rock, you know” to come back and save the day. Or at least they would be if their songs weren’t constructed around the type of melodies and chord progressions that end up in commercials for hybrid cars and Apple products. This is by no means a knock on the band; on the contrary this mix of overstatement and understatement is what makes them such an engaging listen. The balancing act continues on their newest record, Wolf’s Law, but it’s clear that they are beginning to veer towards the dramatic.
The Joy Formidable’s love affair with noise and bluster might help them stand out in a field of indie rock bands more interested in nuance, but it can also suffocate them. The middle of Wolf’s Law is filled with spots where the band use layer upon layer of different overdriven sounds to mask the fact that there isn’t much of a song underneath. “Little Blimp” is the worst offender on this front, mostly because its multitracked drums, clearly intended to add a dancey edge, only serve to make the song muddled and cacophonous. Even when there is a strong tune present, like on “Cholla”, extraneous and tuneless digital duck quacks distract the listener from the real content.
By growing more ambitious, The Joy Formidable have widened the gap between their peaks and their valleys, both sonically, and on the scale of quality. But it's risks like this that lead to greater rewards later. What’s most impressive is that this leap forward in production quality and experimentation came as a result of the band deciding to record the album without a producer. It’s clear that the group has a vision for where they want to take their music, and if they're allowed to follow that path to its logical conclusion they may reach new heights.