2011’s The Big Roar wasn’t just a crowning achievement for the Joy Formidable; it was a crowning achievement for rock music, period. That a band could meld such a hodgepodge of influences—shoegaze, Britpop, grunge, electro—and turn it into something as cohesive, engaging and accessible as that record was nothing short of astounding. The record didn’t hit it too big in the States, but it definitely should have.
While its follow-up Wolf’s Law doesn’t quite possess the wow factor so inherent in The Big Roar, it’s hardly a regression. The newness of the Joy Formidable’s sound has probably worn off just a bit, but the band remain virtually without peer in terms of crafting interesting rock songs on a stage (and budget, surely) this large.
Immediate first impressions might be that Wolf’s Law is a little bit dialed back from The Big Roar and while that might be the case in places, the Joy Formidable have solidified their pop sensibilities in its place. Smarter, not louder, if you will. Opener and lead single “This Ladder Is Ours” is an immediate indicator of this, an orchestral intro cascading into a powerfully catchy base with pounding drums and multi-layered guitars. Vocalist Ritzy Bryan sounds confidently assured throughout, the chorus soaring above the rest of the song the way they typically do in radio singles. The difference here is that this, like most TJF songs, has the personality to circumvent what would normally be a deterrent to most with good taste.
“Cholla” really ups the volume, with electronic tinges peppered throughout the verses and bookended with a fun riff interspersed through the intro and chorus; ditto for “Little Blimp,” which showcases some of the same flashes through a slightly more power-pop lense.
Bryan showcases her softer side (and her guitar picking prowess) on the bare “Silent Treatment.” As talented as she is vocally, she’s an absolute virtuoso on the guitar; the Joy Formidable are a three-piece with her handling both guitar and vocals and as crazy it sounds, her skills sometimes feel a little lost in the shuffle of the bigger picture.
“The Leopard and the Lung” relies more heavily on a confluence of synths and pianos than riffs, adding a new flavor to the Joy Formidable’s formula. They certainly texture many of their other songs with ancillary instrumentation, but their ability to create equally cathartic tones using them as a conduit is impressive.
The only slight misstep on Wolf’s Law is “Maw Maw Song,” which features maybe the most impressive solo from Bryan on the album but flops during the chorus. It’s probably not supposed to sound like a cat meowing, but it does. Momentum killer.
Wolf’s Law doesn’t expand on the Joy Formidable’s sound so much as it cements their sound. Time will tell if it eclipses The Big Roar in terms of much-deserved recognition. It certainly has a chance.