The Joy Formidable released their sophomore album Wolf's Law in late January, a winter month, just like The Big Roar. There was a seasonal connection with the Welsh trio's debut album. With Wolf's Law being released two years later in the same month, it's like The Joy Formidable are catering for their stuck inside, cold audience. General consensus of Wolf's Law is in favour of a positive, better album than the trio's debut. With quick fire British guitar rock singles like "Whirring", "Austere" and "Cradle", it's hard to believe Wolf's Law would be better than The Big Roar, let's find out.
After questioning bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matt Thomas, there was an understanding of The Joy Formidable that I’ve been unable to grasp in the two years of listening to them. They told me of their recording, their experiences post-The Big Roar and how they didn't have any troubles writing and recording album number two like the media suggests with alternative rock artists. Their strong sentiments are represented in Wolf's Law, though the meaning is nowhere to be seen. The Big Roar was clearly The Joy Formidable's breakthrough after years of hard work and touring, Wolf's Law is their reward and they've grasped their chance with support slots with Foo Fighters and Muse, there’s no independence factor behind The Joy Formidable, they want to be huge, but they will never take on the world.
Wolf's Law was predominately recorded in Casco, Maine. The trio had isolation and engineered the album pretty much by themselves. They wrote the majority of their tracks in New England, including "Little Blimp", one of the feisty pre three minute tracks. Ritzy Bryan adds her feminine touch, however the powerful and gritty bass riff Dafydd plays and the stark drum pattern of Thomas makes up the track. Comparisons to Psy's "Gangnam Style" are viable, and actually quite amusing, and The Joy Formidable would have recorded this song way in advance of Psy's internet horse thing. "Little Blimp" is the epiphany of Wolf's Law. On too many occasions the trio decide to crank up the volume, losing the melodic validity and joyous calm moments of musical quality, such as the intro strings on the album opener "This Ladder Is Ours" and the piano introduction of "The Leopard & The Lung". Only once do we hear Bryan and Dafydd connecting as a couple and as a driving force. Although not mixed perfectly, the acoustic guitar sounds great and Bryan's later double tracked vocal works with the ambience. It's like Thom Yorke's mid-album "Thinking About You" from Pablo Honey. It's great to hear an acoustic track with deeper and thoughtful meaning in-between radio friendly material, it defines Wolf's Law.
I oppose Dafydd's stance on the difficulty of sophomore albums - The Big Roar is a tough album to follow-up, and regardless of what The Joy Formidable could put out this year, these tracks will always sit lower down the set list than "Whirring" and "Austere". The second track "Cholla" has the enthusiasm and guitar feedback to combat these debut album singles, but the end result is a bunch of noise. The most inspiring aspect of this track is Thomas' mixed up drumming pattern and the vocal sounds made by Dafydd. Bryan's character just isn't on Wolf's Law, sure her guitar playing has improved and the riffs are far more technical than previously heard, but it doesn’t mean anything in this field without the personality behind it. "Tendons" has a brilliant chorus sang by Bryan, and it's one of her strong points. The orchestral sounds on Wolf's Law are welcomed, adding further sounds and textures into the rock heavy mix. On the other hand, "Bats" lacks everything The Joy Formidable had in the previous four tracks. It's a bunch of noise put together in a typical form with pretty horrible vocal effects.
The weakest track on Wolf's law is "Maw Maw Song". Unfortunately (like many other brave souls) all that comes to mind is "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath. This is a problem The Joy Formidable must endure, plus the name and nature of the track is extremely shoddy. The launching electronic-esque moment played using Bryan's guitar is interesting, but doesn’t go anywhere other than "Iron Man", just "Iron Man", everywhere. It's becoming evident that The Joy Formidable are all about sound in their new era rather than the interlocking band friction and image as a close-knit trio from Wales who have songs of rock to share. I'm not getting that from "Maw Maw Song" or Wolf's Law in general. Having a loud chorus with power and vocal nonsense isn't my idea of a good song, I’m not going to apologise for it. Thankfully "Forest Serenade" makes up for it. Bryan sings with a point, something Wolf's Law seems to be lacking. This track does pass and become somewhat repetitive with the same guitar structure as many other The Joy Formidable songs, and the outro doesn't add anything new.
Wolf's Law hasn't been mixed well. They won't like that, nor will veteran mixer Andy Wallace who has put his name to Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Jeff Buckley. The vocals don't flow, but there’s a bigger and more important reason as to why Wolf's Law hasn't been mixed accordingly. The Joy Formidable are a British guitar band, the reason why so many have fallen in love with them is because of the trio's sound. On early releases you can almost feel the tensions between them, you know how close the band are and how Bryan, Dafydd and Thomas work as a team. Wolf's Law has been mixed in a way that puts a tremendous gap between each member and each instrument. The grand sound has killed the uniqueness of The Joy Formidable. No string arrangement or acoustic ballad can fix the damage of a destructive mix. Which is why the hidden self-titled closer becomes the distinctive end to a band that once ruptured ears, "Cradle", inspired comedy "Whirring" and gave Wales a song to be proud of, "The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade". Wolf's Law is an ineffectual album, which is why The Joy Formidable's debut is and always will be the trio's best album. Rock is a genre not to be underestimated; the debut album is always the defining and most important album. The only way to change that is by experimenting and releasing your own Kid A. In 2013, The Joy Formidable have added an album to their catalogue, and it's not an example of Wolff's Law.