Breakups and new beginnings
The Joy Formidable confronts its internal struggles head-on
Those who’ve already listened to Wolf’s Law, the latest release from U.K. rock act the Joy Formidable, already know full well how massive this record is. Filled with infectious melodies, roaring guitars and thunderous drums, this is the kind of collection that makes you want to air guitar and air drum along to every song. Toss in singer and guitarist Ritzy Bryan’s razor-sharp lyrics and sprightly vocals, and you have the blueprint for one of this year’s most dynamic albums.
Despite such sonic aggressiveness, however, it’s the record’s orchestral flourishes that do most to give the music a grandiose, almost operatic feel. The inspiration behind this choice was largely nostalgic and prompted by tragedy, says Bryan, who’ll make a stop in Sacramento with her band on Saturday, March 23, at Ace of Spades.
“[I] lost my grandfather in January 2012 when we were recording in Maine,” says Bryan, “and there was just that sense of wanting to be nostalgic.”
Indulging in that nostalgia meant revisiting old favorites, she says.
“One of the first movies I saw with my grandparents was Snow White [and the Seven Dwarfs], and I remember listening to that soundtrack, by Frank Churchill, by itself without the visuals while we were in Maine, and really admiring it and realizing that this is a masterpiece,” she says. “Not just the masterpiece that Disney created, but on its own it’s absolutely a beautiful soundtrack. It’s very evocative.”
“Evocative” aptly describes Wolf’s Law’s content, tone and themes because it takes the listener on a roller-coaster ride across a variety of emotional landscapes. The album’s first single, “This Ladder Is Ours,” is an uplifting blast of energy as Bryan encourages someone not to let struggles defeat them. On “Cholla,” the crunchy guitars and hypnotic vocals and melodies augment the singer’s internal struggle for meaning with lyrics such as, “Where are we going? / What are we doing? … What came of, of goodness? / Of fairness?” Likewise, the swelling rock number “Tendons” is striking with references to tendons stretching and pulling that serve as great metaphors for the stresses all relationships endure. That track in particular, however, has attained an even deeper meaning in recent months due to a broken relationship within the band.
“It’s strange because even though it wasn’t written that long ago it … almost acts as a premonition now,” Bryan says.
“We wrote it when [Joy Formidable bassist] Rhydian [Dafydd] and I were together, and now we’re not a couple anymore, so it was almost like we were seeing the unraveling of our relationship,” she continues. “When we wrote it, we wanted to celebrate this extraordinary friendship and relationship, how dynamic it is, and how under the strain of everything, we still managed to pull together.”
These days, she says, it’s fraught with new significance.
“It’s definitely taken on a new, heightened level of meaning and emotion.”
The song is also emblematic of the record’s content as a whole. The notion of the band pressing on in spite of difficulties rather than lying down and giving up is a major theme.
Certainly, it seems, this trio’s members have no interest in letting its trials defeat them.
“There’s this sense, on the album, of trying to battle through and reconcile relationships that have broken down,” Bryan says. “We wanted to fill the record with that idea of having a spirit of tenacity.”
For Bryan and the rest of the band, there is no sense in dwelling on the past.
“We touch on many things, but that’s one of the sentiments that informed this album,” Bryan says. “That sense of trying to make up for lost time and saying, ’Let’s move forward and start fresh.’”