Here is a comprehensive list of music I am familiar with out of Wales: The Psychedelic Furs, Bonnie Tyler. Neither of those have anything to do with The Joy Formidable. I can’t see a clear influence between them, but perhaps a shared enjoyment of big, shiny power-pop and a love of darkly sweet melody.
The closest thing I can compare A Balloon Called Moaning to is the debut album from The xx. Though this isn’t quite as deliberate as the Mercury Prize winner. The Joy Formidable has provided us with a debut EP that is more bouncy and fun than the slow but still great xx (I’ll try to stop talking about The xx now, but for more on that album, check out my review of it). The guitars have some soaring moments that make one think of a pure rock album from the Foo Fighters, or maybe a lesser version of Grohl & co. The drums are constantly pushing things forward, even on the tracks that are a bit slow. That leaves the synths, which are ever present, in the background for the most part.
That’s not a bad thing, especially for a band that continues to push its live sound to the limits every day. Bassist Rhydian Dafydd has said his pedal board is so expansive he can no longer carry it. On the track “Cradle,” it sounds like there might be two, three, maybe four guitars and bass going at once, but it’s just Rhydian going crazy with effects and distortion.
Lead singer Ritzy Bryan was named No. 20 on NME magazine’s “cool list,”(that’s one spot above Jay-Z) and it isn’t hard to see why. She’s a bit like Karen O, but less crazy. And she plays guitar better than a lot of leads that don’t carry the burden of singing.
She shares that weight with Rhydian, who sings on a few tracks, but not all. The highlight of the record, for me, is the tête-à-tête between the real-life couple on “9669.” It reminds me a lot of the song “Infinity” off that great xx album I keep mentioning (sorry). Ritzy and Rhydian sing back and forth:
Step out the light
Step out and re-shape me
Here comes the white
Here comes the big empty
If we’re meant to part
We’re meant to part sweeter
Make some swells
And slips some cut deeper
We don’t ride
We don’t ride to sunset
We just ride off ’til our last breath
Maybe it’s because “9669” is the only acoustic track on the record that set’s it apart for me, but I really enjoy it. And it’s only a brief moment before The Joy Formidable reminds us that gigantic soundscapes are where they like to work. “The Last Drop” is a deluge of sonic delight dropped from above like an a-bomb on your head.
For the most part, I really enjoy this EP. Listening to a couple of songs on their Myspace page that are going to be on the new record that hits sometime early next year, I’m encouraged that the band continues to develop the sound that they believe in. This release is definitely worth checking out, but I’m convinced the next one is going to be even better.
- The Joy Formidable is originally from Mold, Wales, but has since moved to London. The band is Ritzy Bryan (vocals/guitar), Rhydian Dafydd (vocals/bass) and Matt Thomas (drums).
- A Balloon Called Moaning is available on iTunes for $7.99.
- The Joy Formidable will play Schubas on Tuesday, November 9 with The Dig. Tickets are $10.
“I Don’t Want to See You Like This” official music video