The second of ten favorite 2011 albums — the Joy Formidable’s ‘The Big Roar’

The Joy Formidable, The Big Roar

RAWK. And there you go.

So tempted to stop there. That’d be satisfying on a lizard-brain level and sometimes that’s how my musical lizard brain operates. Actually, that’s probably the case most of the time, with changes of opinion only being rationalizations of initial conclusions, even when it seems like I changed my mind. Sometimes I’m irritated with something on first blush for being derivative only to realize I liked it for that reason (and because it brought something else to the table along with it.) But sometimes I’m right on first blush and then from that point forward, thus this. RAWK, as I said.

Part of the appeal lies, I’m sure, in the fact that I have a lingering Brit-friendly feeling after all these years. The near-automatic “from UK = must be good” conclusion that I had there some twenty years back or so got shot down in flames plenty of times over the years but there’s always a sense — always — that there’s got to be *something* good over there still. Which of course there is, plenty of it, and later entries in the list will say as much, and that won’t even be touching on folks like, for instance, Lady Lesherr or Ill Blu or plenty more besides that is very clearly, happily and comfortably the UK 2011, no matter what the feebs running the place want to pretend otherwise. And they are feebs, believe me.

But here’s a thought — back then, I would have relied on the ever handy Melody Maker to at least slightly clue me into something that passed through their gatekeeping hands, however shaped by press officers and the publication’s own built-in limitations. I first heard about the Joy Formidable thanks to my fellow Americans Maura Johnston and Dan Gibson when they were running Idolator, when it wasn’t a joke. One set of gatekeepers for another, sure, and further biased by the fact that I was now part of the writing community so I could consider them peers, though obv. far more accomplished and known than I. Point being, though, that I could immediately listen, judge for myself and go, “Damn, they’re right!”

(The embed is being flaky so just go here for their performance of “Whirring” on Conan O’Brien.)

So it’s been some time and now the band’s debut album is finally out after EPs and singles and the like and now they’re opening for the Foo Fighters and that’s as it should be. Not stuck as an opening act, rather it’s right and proper that they should be playing big venues even as an opening act. This entry arguably is less about the album than the overall fact that the band not only exists but lives to RAWK and more about that in a second. But I’m so damn glad they exist just to start with.

At the risk of telegraphing where some of this list is going to go in future, for a good chunk of this year I was excessively tired of dude bands. ANY dude bands. The Joy Formidable is two-thirds dude, sure, but the frontperson, guitarist and singer is not and that more than counts for something. It’s not enough just to be not a dude, though, that’s a lazy excuse for rating anything well. Slagging a dude band just for being dudes is just as bad. But I’ve lived long enough to know that a lot of dude bands are frickin’ boring, that a lot of them survive and thrive on comfort and laziness, and I just won’t get anything from them but the sense of ‘well it isn’t surprising but it works I guess.’ Doesn’t matter what the genre or style, trust me.

So why the Joy Formidable in particular? An illustrative example: so earlier this year I had the chance to see them along with my ever-patient and lovely girlfriend. We were in a crowded local venue pressed up against the bar and my sweets was feeling a little disenchanted — some crowd members were dysfunctional human beings one step away from being committed, her legs were killing her, the opening band were dullards and it was getting late. She’d heard the album and all but wasn’t completely sold on them and we’d talked about sticking around for a few minutes and, if she was still not feeling it, heading home. But then the band took the stage and within a few seconds of Ritzy Bryan hitting her first power chord and cheerily and powerfully singing out my girlfriend was all “Wait, I like this!” By the end of their short but hitting-all-the-high-points set she was cheering and clapping like crazy.

That an album or any recording can sometimes just be only an imperfect analogue of the ‘true’ experience is a given; naturally the reverse applies — some performers should only be heard or experienced via recorded work. The Big Roar is great but I didn’t listen to it as much as some, partially because the live show was just that monstrous. Sure, when “Whirring” blasts in with that extra guitar part towards the end it’s eyeopeningly great but hearing Bryan fire up the fuck out of that live towards near Loop/MBV sound levels is something else again.

The Joy Formidable lock into something I’d kinda half forgotten, that I do like my loud guitar anthems and all, though I’d thought I’d long since had my fill. The zig-zag line of descent with the band in my own likes and loves over the years would include Queen, Def Leppard, MBV of course, the Smashing Pumpkins most definitely. That latter point was reinforced a bit by the reissues that came out last month; there’s a clear sense that the Joy Formidable use a bit of that stadium-god on the one hand/arty-overload on the other throughout their work. Something like “Buoy” and how a thick rise and fall determines the flow of the track confirms it in my head.

And again, there’s just something about the fact that it’s a short — heck, damn near tiny — woman leading the way on this front, without apology. Makes me think of someone like Debbie Smith, Curve’s underrated second guitarist in their first incarnation, someone who is all “ARRRRGH” when it comes to the music, but where Smith projected an air of toughness, Bryan’s was all smiles, a projection of — what else? — joy. It can be the joy of going over a cliff at full velocity but that’s enough for me, frankly.

The Big Roar‘s damn easy to listen to, to fire up and let flow, it’s life-affirming, really. It just makes me want to go “Fuck yeah.” It makes me want to see the band headline huge places around the world, to do something like take over Muse’s role in the universe. (And how I would dearly love that to happen — now THERE’S a boring dude band for you.) In my head, it goes “RAWK.” I’m good with that. Plenty good.

Purchase The Big Roar via iTunes and Amazon.