The Joy Formidable
The Big Roar
January 24, 2011
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman

Following their impeccable introduction to the world with the critically-acclaimed mini-album, A Balloon Called Moaning, this month finally sees The Joy Formidable releasing their long-awaited debut album proper, The Big Roar, through Canvasback / Atlantic Records, which is the culmination of everything they laid the groundwork for and set out to achieve! Produced by the band and their live sound engineer Neak Menter, then mixed by Rich Costey, the LP contains 12 invigorating tracks and clocks in at just under 50 minutes. Boasting all of the elements we’ve come to know and love about TJF – infectious quiet / loud songs with overdriven guitars, distorted bass, thunderous drums and emotive vocals that envelop you – it also showcases another side to the huge wall of sound and sensory assault that Ritzy, Rhydian and Matt meticulously conjure up. With adventurous arrangements, experimentation, technical prowess and sonic soundscapes, that wouldn’t be out of place on records by the likes of Depeche Mode, Doves and Radiohead.

Cleverly connecting this album to their past, with reworked versions of the fan favourites they first built their name and reputation upon – Austere, Cradle, Whirring and The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade – was a stroke of genius, as this will give listeners a sense of where The Joy Formidable came from, but importantly, alongside newer tracks, where they’re heading as well! Opening assuredly with the epic, The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie, this tells you all you need to know about the trio’s musical ambition, as it’s nearly 8 minutes of mind-bending sonics and impressionistic lyrics. As Ritzy sings, “Call in the social…”, the transportative song builds steadily with a tsunami of guitars and multi-textured effects, before Ritzy implores, “Can’t you see I’m good?”, eventually culminating with a lengthy outro of needle-in-the-red noise that bleeds straight into the next track. Preceded by demented laughing and with an unpolished fuzziness and muffled vocals, The Magnifying Glass is a volatile and abrasive 2-minute in-your-face rocker, which has an unstoppable urgency that boils with bile and dissonance and is nothing short of an ear-eviscerating, pulse-pounding onslaught!


I Don't Want To See You Like This, was the first official single to be taken from The Big Roar and its chorus is one of the most heartfelt, spine-tingling and memorable you’re ever likely to hear! Matt’s unrelenting, militaristic and ribcage-shaking drumming meanwhile, highlights just how important his contribution to TJF has become. Next up, are the familiar high-pitched, “Ahh, ahh, ahh, ahh, ahh’s” of Austere and with a fresh coat of paint, it somehow even manages to improve on the original and now ends rather aptly with a big roar – a nice touch! The gems keep on coming, as A Heavy Abacus takes the band’s signature musical template one step further, with a varied approach to structuring this song so that we’re rewarded with even more dreamy subtleties and pay-offs! The group’s love of classic pop hooks and melodies – which colours much of their work – is never more evident than on the wonderful Whirring. With a euphoric electromagnetism, a chorus to die for, high-voltage riffs falling from Ritzy’s fingers and the long, spontaneous jam of the live version as an outro, here, The Joy Formidable hit all the right notes and have successfully managed to ‘capture’ everything on tape that’s so entrancing about their energetic and simmering performances onstage.

If this was a vinyl, Buoy could well be viewed as the start of side 2, as it’s very different to everything that has previously gone by. With an almost detached vocal, the track alternates between moodiness and noisiness, even evoking the slower-paced, dark-hearted moments of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Maintaining this atmospheric feel, the minimal Maruyama, then acts as a short, blissed-out interlude that allows us a moment to breathe, before we’re quickly thrust back into familiar territory with the impossibly catchy Cradle. Another anthemic number, it sees Ritzy spitting-out the line, “My vicious tongue cradles just one” and will no doubt ignite mosh-pits forever! Often heard singing backing vocals, Llaw = Wall actually features a strong lead vocal from Rhydian this time around, with Ritzy providing the harmonies. Sounding mournful to begin with, the song eventually explodes into a rousing finale. The tapping of a typewriter then signals the start of Chapter 2, which with no-nonsense primordial power, vitality and venom, is one of the album’s most aggressive spots. Featuring a melting pot of fast and furious squalling guitars, wrenching bass and gnawing drums, it’s seasoned with a smattering of defiant and wrathful vocals.

Whereas A Balloon Called Moaning began with The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade, here it works equally as well as a closing track – a beautiful and stately song that comes at the end of a stirring and magical musical journey! Tipped for greatness by innumerable blogs, webzines and magazines as early as 2008 (including R*E*P*E*A*T, who has interviewed the trio on 3 occasions), it’s to The Joy Formidable’s eternal credit that they never once buckled under the weight of expectation. Instead, they toured hard, built up a word-of-mouth devoted fanbase, honed their sound / songwriting to perfection and with The Big Roar, have made good on their early promise by crafting an exceptional and solid long player, that will hold its own against many classic and influential debut albums in your record collection. One of the first great LP’s of the year, this is a suite of songs that will etch themselves into your memory and resound loudly throughout 2011 and beyond!

A very special thanks to Roz @ Atlantic Records, for all of her time and help.


1. The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie
2. The Magnifying Glass
3. I Don't Want To See You Like This
4. Austere
5. A Heavy Abacus
6. Whirring
7. Buoy
8. Maruyama
9. Cradle
10. Llaw = Wall
11. Chapter 2
12. The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade