The Joy Formidable‘s Hitch is another album which has been out for a bit, but didn’t get a review here. Time to remedy that.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Welsh indie trio The Joy Formidable. Their debut album was a charming little indie rock album, and Wolf’s Law upped the ante a bit and showed a band that had matured. In 2016, they returned with their third effort Hitch, and whilst it’s still the same old The Joy Formidable, the growth they’re showing here is, well, formidable. You know when bands come out with new stuff and it’s always the most whatever and and top something they’ve done so far? The Joy Formidable has gone ahead and did just that, only this band means it.
Hitch is the culmination of what the band has done so far, like the proper thing after two dress rehearsals. It’s the most layered, intricate, multi-faceted and interesting record yet, and it may very well be their best. The opening double attack of A Second in White and Radio of Lips makes abundantly clear that we still have the same quirky band at work here, fusing tight rock, dreamlike soundscapes and an ever growing gleam of art rock into a coherent whole. Hitch sounds pleasantly stuffed without sounding over-produced, and you have to wonder how much of Muse’s influence has inadvertently trickled through into The Joy Formidable’s sound after their opening stint during Muse’s 2012 tour. There is a lot going on, all over the place and all the time, and it’s a joy to discover every tiny little detail crammed into these songs.
The Welsh trio’s sound is thicker than ever with guitar swirls, keyboard flourishes and frantic drumming everywhere. And talking about drumming, Matthew James Thomas is the unsung star of Hitch. He stuffs these twelve songs with some furious tom pounding and lots of interesting fills, but knows when to hold back in favour of the song (The Last Thing On My Mind or Liana are good examples of this). It’s not for the first time that I’m flabbergasted as to how he manages to enrich a song with his drumming. The rest of the band is on fine form too. Rhiannon Bryan still brings a quite ethereal feel to the songs with her soothing voice, and remains one of the main sonic attractions to this power trio.
Even though Hitch is a bit long in the tooth with a grand total of sixty-six-and-a-bit minutes, it never feels that way. This is mostly because the balance is pretty much perfect throughout. You have your stout rockers mixed with balladesque material (Liana), dreamy pop/folk (The Gift, with Rhydian Dafydd on vocal duty) and the odd balladesque moment (Underneath the Petal) before it all grandiosely comes together in Don’t Let Me Know, where the album crescendos into an all-out finale before dying out. And the way it dies out lends an odd roundness to Hitch, where everything comes full circle and we can start again from A Second in White. In that respect, Hitch feels like a very complete album, and you can hear how the band has laboured on it for a year.
There isn’t an album save Bowie’s Blackstar that has seen as many repeated listens here as The Joy Formidable’s third record. The band continues to impress with an ever-expanding sound, whilst still keeping true to their indie rock roots. Hitch is a perfect example as to why bigger can sometimes indeed be better. It’s a more grandiose album than they ever released, a more interesting to be sure and somehow it doesn’t implode underneath its own weight. Not quite the album of the year, but pretty damn close..
Label: C’mon Let’s Drift
Release: out now
- A Second in White
- Radio of Lips
- The Last Thing on My Mind
- The Brook
- It’s Started
- The Gift
- Running Hands with the Night
- Fog (Black Windows)
- Underneath the Petal
- Blowing Fire
- Don’t Let Me Know
- Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan – lead vocals, guitar
- Rhydian Dafydd – bass, vocals
- Matthew James Thomas – drums, percussion
Review by Ralph Plug