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The Joy Formidable
The Big Roar Rich Hughes , January 20th, 2011 09:10

The "big music" has returned with The Big Roar. The Joy Formidable's first album on new label Atlantic, following on from their Pure Groove debut A Balloon Called Moaning, is a grand, throbbing, hulking beast of cacophonous riffs and battering drums: a real kick in the nuts for the recent prevalence of disco-tinged, slight-of-frame nonsense pop that's flooded the airwaves.

The Joy Formidable definitely have a sense of history. There's a whiff of late 90s emo in their charged riffs and rumbling drums, but it's the air of 80s rock that prevails most of all; Echo and the Bunnymen and The Waterboys are the most obvious influences at work here. It's their sense of urgency and an ear for pop-tinged hooks that The Joy Formidable have managed to harness.

It sounds massive. The centrepiece of the album is the shattering wonder of 'Whirring' which is, quite possibly, one of my favourite singles of the last five years. There's a child-like innocence to Ritzy Bryan's vocals, marred by the bloody guitar and hacking drums. The repeated refrain of "All these things about me / You never can tell" pierces this innocence with a knowing glare; it's a rough ride through an emotional wringer, the senses assaulted at every turn.

There's the haunting air of The xx during the intro to 'Buoy', which offers you a chance to catch your breath. It might slow things down, but there's still a menace to proceedings that continues into 'Maruyama'. There's an ancient, almost medieval tone at work here that twinkles like some ancient star, and that soon explodes into 'Cradle'. Reworked and remodeled on Atlantic's dime, it still sounds as urgent as it ever.

The Big Roar ends with 'The Greatest Light in the Greatest Shade'. A pompous title, perhaps, but its fraught synth intro feels like it could charge through anything in its path. A final call to arms, maybe? The lyrics are a little oblique, and at times descend into some cod sci-fi territory, but it's hard not to get sucked in. Like the rest of the album, the execution is so perfect it rattles, shakes and taps its way into every fibre of your body.

The only thing that blots The Big Roar's copybook is its lack of that killer piece of originality, something that would ensure its entry into the great debut albums. Of course, many will level this at Atlantic's door, but that would be unfair. The entire album is executed with such aplomb, such energy and emotion, it's almost impossible not to love.

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