The Joy Formidable are without a doubt one of the most refreshing and exciting alternative rock bands in the UK today. With their critically acclaimed debut album ‘The Big Roar‘ captivating audiences worldwide, here comes what is usually classed as the ‘difficult’ second album, the eclectic ‘Wolf’s Law‘.
Now, here is a bit of background about the concept behind the album. What exactly is Wolf’s Law?
Well the album title of ‘Wolf’s Law‘ is actually a word-played reference to the famous German surgeon Julius Wolff. In 1892, the surgeon postulated ‘Wolff’s Law’, to which he described the relation between bone geometry and it’s mechanical influences. In other words, it is about how bones can change strength to cope with stress or breakage. Which is all the more fitting as some of the primary themes to do with the lyrics on the album are about mending relationships and rejuvenation/reinvigoration. There are also additional influences on the album ranging from Native American mythology, nature, and current social issues. So it is safe to say that this is quite a substantially fitting album!
Musically, this album is full of refreshing diversity that is displayed with absolute precision and executed with flawless quality. There are moments in the album which are reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins‘ most hailed album ‘Siamese Dream‘ (particularly in the songs ‘Cholla‘, and ‘Bats‘), with the raw yet sublimely smooth guitars and driving drum patterns. There are elements of post-rock in the vein of Mono, constant vocal melodies that echo that of the brilliant Howling Bells, the experimentalism of Sonic Youth and even electro-influenced new wave tinges in some songs.
The album starts off with an orchestral opening in the song ‘This Ladder Is Ours‘, which 40 seconds in soars in to a grunge like rock anthem which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Sonic Youth album.The first five songs of the album are a raw display of epic alternative rock anthems full of promise. When we come to the third song (and one of the album’s highlights) ‘Tendons‘, there are yet more elements of orchestral string arrangements and percussion, as well as some beautiful piano lines.
As we come halfway through the album, we are given a wonderfully tender acoustic moment in the aptly named ‘Silent Treatment‘. This is a great choice to put this track where it is in the track listing, as it proves the perfect yet soothing balance in between both halves of ‘Wolf’s Law‘. ’Maw Maw Song‘ is definitely the most progressive yet diverse tracks on the album, of which we are sure that Matt Bellamy of Muse will be somewhere out there having an air guitar fret-wank to the awesome guitar solo in the middle of this near 7 minute alternative rock journey.
The rest of the second half of this album is a sublime mixture of the more experimental side of The Joy Formidable‘s capabilities, particularly with ‘Forest Serenade‘ as well. The other album highlight comes in the form of ‘The Leopard And The Lung‘. A blissfully soothing yet blisteringly raw composition, where you can visualize Beethoven collaborating with My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. Yes, it is that epic. We inevitably end with the album closer ‘The Turnaround‘. An epic and gentle collaboration of acoustic guitars, orchestras, wonderful vocal melodies, and alternative rock force, which leaves the listener feeling exhilarated.
Being a self-produced effort by the band, there are some brilliant moments of production in here and on the odd occasion there is a tiny little bit of over production. Some people may wonder why the drum mix is so low down at times, but unless you are familiar with shoegaze, post-rock, or any kind of Steve Albini influenced methods of mixing and production, then you will not get why they have done this. But this may leave a few listeners a little lost in translation at times. What needs to be realised is that this is an album of musical experimentation done in such a way that it does not alienate the listener. It also should be noted that this is one of the more favourable sophomore efforts in recent memory and should be praised for its bold step in finding their own sound and various influences.
The Joy Formidable are one of the brightest hopes in UK rock music. The album’s concept is carefully thought out, the music is brilliantly executed and the production is a wonderful example on how to make music majestic and soothing, yet raw and primal. A definite grower, but yet a thoroughly enjoyable album that is more than a pleasure to listen to. Wait until they drop album number three, this is just the second chapter in the bands career… and my does it look promising!
Reviewer: James Matthews