On the surface, The Joy Formidable is at home furiously stomping on pedals, hell bent on permanently damaging eardrums. Loud and melodic, it's arena/festival rock for the sing-along sweaty pogoing masses. However, pulling back the veil, the true face of the band appears, an old soul full of knowledge and secrets, eager to share with all who open their ears and hearts. For those in the secret club, they're rewarded with a collection of hard rocking and foot stomping tunes from a poet's heart -- intimate songs of hope, fear, love, life, death and dying, moving on, and that fearful leap into the unknown.
My love affair with the band started in March of 2011 with free music from Amazon. One day after downloading and listening to Whirring, I ordered the EP A Balloon Called Moaning, and then a week later, I bought the LP The Big Roar. I was hooked. Then, I became invested as I learned more about this little Welsh band with a big sound.
Fronting the group, guitarist Ritzy Bryan, a diminutive pixie in platform shoes and a dress, bouncing all over, making the toughest of sailors blush before reducing them to tears. And Rhydian Davies, the multi-talented bassist, with a mischievous smile and serious vocal chops, often playing the perfect vocal foil to Ritzy. Then on drums, Matt Thomas, always beaming, quick to laugh, breaking sticks, and appearing to be having far too much fun. Then again, he's the drummer in a rock and roll band, he deserves to smile and have fun.
And I wasn't the only one to take notice of their charms. Their devoted followers, old and young, are from all over the world and come from every walk of life. The band recognizes these fiercely loyal fans, rewarding them with podcasts, on the road videos, and prop giveaways. They even frequently get involved in friendly fan banter on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Earnest, appreciative, and hard working, rooting for them is easy.
With that, I decided to make a list of my favorite songs by the band. Instead of favorites, or best, or whatever you want to call the list, how about we call it ten essential tracks. Now that's all sorted out, this was no easy task because several songs were left off, many I included in early incarnations of this list, many I really love. In the end, I limited the list to ten, however, one entry contains two songs because it is listed as one track on the album, so the list is really eleven songs. Besides, the addition meant one less tough decision to make.
These songs mean the most to me, and I hope you enjoy the list.
10. Llaw=Wall -- Displaying a voice big enough to lead, Rhydian's hypnotic yet damaged lullaby explodes at the coda, satisfying all who waited through the dramatic pause.
9. Cholla -- The buzzsaw opening riff belies a song full of quotable and entirely relatable lyrics. Wide eyed and looking at the road ahead, there's no finer mantra than "these are our riches to take."
8. I Don't Want to See You Like This -- The unchangeable past may inform her work, but get one thing about Ritzy, she's got her eyes on what lies ahead ("This is the past right here/I choose to leave it here."). Unwavering, even in the face of eternal darkness, this child of courage offers her soothing hand during the journey with "I’ll be your maps/I’ll be your eyes/I’ll give the ending a nudge."
7. Buoy -- Lumbering, ominous and angry, the eerie background track haunts as Ritzy propels herself out of the mire shouting "bringing home trash from the pile". Their darkest work.
6. The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie -- Wrapping one's head around "Love is the everchanging spectrum of a lie/A lie to hide behind when nothing's right" can ruin the perception of true love, or at the least set off an existential love crisis. But don't show any weakness, there's danger in doing so.
5. The Turnaround/Wolf's Law -- An artistic work borne out of life's heartbreaks often yields painful truths, yet, even in the catharsis and despite the pain, can be beautiful. While not out of character lyrically, this orchestra backed somber affair indicates a band unafraid of a new musical direction.
4. Austere -- The opening bass line and the curious high pitched backing ohhh ohh oh's quickly entices before darting down a rabbit hole to an off the rails bout of bacchanalia.
3. The Last Drop -- Most pop songs don't have lyrics like this: "Pieces come together/Pull the mist like needles/Fighting for the leap/When we can rise like spirals." A bonus if you like, but this is a true pop gem - fuzzy guitar, infectious chorus, and Ritzy's honeyed but not cloying vocals.
2. The Leopard and the Lung -- Their smartest and most mature effort to date, a brilliant masterpiece. The band shows a level of social conscience not often found in young bands trying to make it in today's industry. The piano opener, the fuzzy guitar, the soaring choruses, and Ritzy and Rhydian sharing vocal duties cements this yet to be heard live song as a fan favorite and a deep cut standout.
1. Whirring -- Most likely the song that attracted most fans to the band, and remains a live staple, often closing the set. Seductive hooks, Ritzy's maniacal delivery, and Matt's furious heavy metal drum barrage makes this a tune for the ages. An obvious choice for their best song.
If you've read this far, I'd like to note some of the songs I felt terrible about excluding. Well, all of them to be honest, but, if I were to jot down a few: A Heavy Abacus, Cradle, The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade, Bats, 9669, and one particularly gave me fits when I left it off, Popinjay. What would your list look like?