When someone uses “shoegaze” to describe a band’s sound, we don’t normally think of that as a “big” sound. But UK-based alt-rock act The Joy Formidable has already proven they aren’t a band that colors inside the lines. They’ve figured out how to take buzzy guitars, combine them with big drums and bass lines, and create a big sound. Their sophomore full-length release Wolf’s Law takes this trend to the next level, creating an overall sound that at times takes shoegaze from “big” to “epic.”
When we talk about a “big” sound with a rock band, a lot of times we’re not just talking about volume—we’re talking about personality and stage presence. (Imagine the Rolling Stones without Mick Jagger’s “moves,” or Aerosmith without Steven Tyler’s—um—mouth.) But with this type of alternative rock sound, it isn’t really about personality; when it’s done right, it’s all about the music. And to me, that’s what makes The Joy Formidable so unique as a band. Their music is designed to fill venues with walls of sound, but true to the alt-rock/shoegaze vibe, the music itself takes front and center, while the band acts more as the delivery agent.
There’s another thing that happens when you take shoegaze and amp it up: it becomes less reflective/meditative, and it becomes more…exciting. Suffice it to say that Wolf’s Law is not meant to be played at low volumes, and experiencing the album will almost definitely make you beg to see The Joy Formidable perform live. After a strong start with the opening track “This Ladder Is Ours,” the high points of the record are almost too many to mention, with each track being an event in itself. The shortest track on the record, “Little Blimps,” packs one of the album’s greatest punches (I dare you not to jump to your feet by the end), while the epic “Maw Maw Song” is one of the best-spent 7 minutes on the record. And yet, The Joy Formidable also knows how to take a breath and reflect, as demonstrated by the acoustic guitar ballad “Silent Treatment” and the piano-driven title track, which actually occurs as a hidden track after another epic tune “The Turnaround.”
One other pleasant detail which might be missed by some—one that often makes the difference between a good record and a great one—is production value of this record. While The Joy Formidable collectively presents a buzzy “wall of sound” on the lion’s share of their tunes, Wolf’s Law is mixed in such a way that each instrument has its own space carved into the sonic landscape. Quite a feat in itself, in my personal opinion.
Every band strives to find its own sonic niche. Even when a band succeeds in doing so, there are times when you re-think and re-invent to avoid getting into a rut—and there are times when you realize you’re onto a good thing, dig in deeper, and make it better. The Joy Formidable has happily chosen the latter in this case, and I think it’s the best decision they could have made. This is a band destined for epic-ness, and this is a record that demands to be heard.