A record that will be cherished by loyal fans and embraced by new ones; The Joy Formidable‘s special re-issue of their debut EP A Balloon Called Moaning is a poignant marker on the timeline of a band who have enjoyed well deserved success for over a decade. Originally written & recorded in a bedroom by vocalist & guitarist Ritzy Bryan and bass player Rhydian Dafydd, A Balloon Called Moaning has taken the band from intimate venues, all the way across the globe to established festival stages. Their versatile songwriting and formidable stage presence have kept the attention of both fans and critics since their inception, and they’re set to stay there with their celebratory double vinyl, released via Hassle Records on 1st November.
The eight original tracks on the EP are accompanied by eight acoustic Welsh language versions, which are a homage to Ritzy’s geographical roots. This means gentler tracks like ‘9669’, and ear-swelling anthems like ‘Whirring’ all get the same treatment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fluent in Welsh or not; the language has a natural musicality that suits the renditions, breathing new life in to well known tracks.
“This childish heart won’t wait, it dances, keeps me awake” sings Ritzy on opening track ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ (Y Golau Mwyaf yw’r Cysgod Mwyaf), which still sounds as shadowy and hypnotic today as it did upon its release in 2009. This feeling of restlessness permeates the EP, with Rhydian’s buzzing bass lines and drummer Matt Thomas’ urgent, crashing percussion fueling the fire beneath Ritzy’s mammoth guitar riffs.
‘Cradle’ (‘Crud’) and ‘Austere’ (‘Llym’) blitz by in a whir of thrashing guitars and catchy lyrical refrains that still stand the test of time in mosh pits during live sets. It’s hard to pick “stand out” tracks on the record, but ‘While The Flies’ (‘Tra bo’r gwybed’) is certainly one that lingers in the memory. Ritzy muses about being forgotten – “They left you falling and no-one remembers your name” – whilst Rhydian provides atmospheric backing vocals on a track that rises and falls like waves crashing upon the shore. With the gift of hindsight, the sentiment of being forgotten now seems irrelevant for a band who have enjoyed longevity in a fickle industry.
The enduring power of ‘Whirring’ (‘Chwyrlio’) is one of many reasons why the trio’s EP is so memorable. It’s thudding drum beats and punchy lyrics provide a defiant, cathartic burst of energy mid-way through the record. It’s followed by stripped back lament ‘9669’, with Ritzy and Rhydian’s call-and-response vocals giving poignant insight in to a seemingly painful, intimate conversation. It’s offset perfectly by penultimate track ‘The Last Drop’ (‘Y Diferyn Olaf’), with its manic stop-start rhythms and bold lyrics, before the oddly named ‘Ostrich’ (‘Estrys’) closes the EP. It’s a dizzying wall of sound; a mixture of buzzing riffs, longing vocals, and relentless percussion forming an all-consuming, disorientating aural blur.
Retrospective reviews are tricky, as they’re usually tainted by the author’s nostalgia, but that’s what makes them so enjoyable to write (and hopefully to read). What makes reviewing A Balloon Called Moaning so special for me 10 years after its release, is that this is the record that made me want to start writing about music. At the tender age of nineteen, discovered via a crush I was trying to impress, it opened my ears to a new breed of music outside of the charts, and introduced me to the ferocious splendor of live sound when I made the pilgrimage to see the band live a few months later at The Garage in Islington.
Of course, the band have since released other, equally as good material, but it’s this priceless personal affiliation with the songs on A Balloon Called Moaning that makes me return to it a decade later. That is the legacy of a formidable record, produced by an equally formidable band. Their songwriting craft can be fully appreciated in both its acoustic and electric forms on this wonderful celebratory release.
Pre-order your limited edition double vinyl of The Joy Formidable’s A Balloon Called Moaning here.
Photo Credit: Steve Reynolds