Our “Still Spinning” feature focuses on records that we consider to be iconic – whether that’s for popular, or personal reasons – and celebrates our enduring love for them. Get In Her Ears Co-Founder & Features Editor Kate Crudgington talks us through why Welsh alternative trio The Joy Formidable’s debut album The Big Roar, released in January 2011, is still one of her most influential listens today.
At the tender age of nineteen, I discovered The Joy Formidable through a crush who I was trying to impress, and my ears were introduced to a whole new world of music outside of the charts. It’s this priceless personal affiliation with the songs on their debut album The Big Roar that has kept me listening to it for the last decade.
Formed of Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd & Matt Thomas, The Joy Formidable dropped The Big Roar in January 2011, two years after their debut EP A Balloon Called Moaning, and twenty year old me fell head over heels in love with it. It was one of the first albums I owned on vinyl, but before that I’d been listening to it on CD. I’d bought the limited edition boxset which included a pin badge, a CD of live recordings and a piece of Ritzy’s smashed guitar. I worked part-time in retail on minimum wage back then, so it took a hefty chunk out of my pay-check, but it was worth every penny.
As the title suggests, The Big Roar rips and roars with vital, visceral urgency; plunging listeners into overwhelming waves of sound before allowing them to resurface and breathe again. The record was already littered with singles I knew – ‘Whirring’, ‘Austere’, ‘Cradle’ & ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ – so listening for the first time flooded me with both familiarity and excitement. I thought it was a bold move to open an album with a 40 second cacophony of indiscernible clacking noises, but after repeated listens it’s something I’ve grown to appreciate. It laid the foundation for spiralling opener ‘The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie,’ which rushes the ears with its swelling riffs and urgent vocals. This track, along with ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ both brim with cathartic guitar wails and commanding beats, encouraging listeners to be “courage’s child” and break away from the past.
The stomping rhythms of ‘The Magnifying Glass’, ‘Chapter 2’ and ‘A Heavy Abacus’ were already known to me because I’d heard them live. I remember turning up to The Garage in Islington in 2009 to see the band headline, and afterwards having an overwhelming feeling that I’d just seen something that was going to change my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but watching Ritzy Bryan shredding her guitar, singing lead vocals and thrashing her white-blonde hair around the stage with her bandmates galvanized my idea of what a guitar band should be, and quite frankly – who I wanted to be. I wanted to be just like her.
When I used to frequent the dancefloor at The Pink Toothbrush on a Saturday night – one of the only alternative clubs in my home county of Essex – DJ Darren B would play ‘Whirring’ in its entirety, so my friends and I could thrash about to it at the beginning of the night. Its thudding drum beats and punchy lyrics have kept me stomping on numerous floorboards for hours. The track’s enduring power stays with me for this reason, and because its epic disorientating outro differs to the version that’s on the band’s 2009 EP. ‘Cradle’ and ‘Austere’ blitz by in a whir of thrashing guitars and catchy lyrical refrains, and were also numbers DJ Darren B would treat us to on a night out.
The ear-swelling ‘Buoy’ is one of the bands strongest anthems. From the subtle allure of Ritzy’s opening guitar riffs, to Rhydian’s dense buzzing bass lines; it’s an all-consuming aural blur. I love the way they spit the last lines “And you should have talked / and you should talk too / ’cause in twenty years / you’ll be a fucking mute” – their urgency complimented by dizzying riffs and Matt’s relentless percussion. My ribs still remember the thrill of being hit by the sound from the speakers after the ferocious drop in when I heard this live at Kentish Town Forum. Gentle interlude ‘(Maruyama)’ provides a moment of respite on the album following this belter.
Bassist Rhydian takes the vocal lead on ‘Llaw=Wall’, which like ‘Buoy’ has a colossal drop in. I’ve been miming “spit on the window is what you are” into the mirror since 2011, but a quick Google search just informed me it’s “spilt” – which brings me on to another TJF song I’d been singing incorrect lyrics to. The opening track on A Balloon Called Moaning, but the closing one for The Big Roar, ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ still sounds as shadowy and hypnotic today to me now as it did back in 2009 when I first heard it. I thought the chorus opened with the line “Destroy this…” but it’s actually “This dream is…” but who cares about technicalities like that when you’re swept up in the layers of frenzied guitar and Ritzy’s tender vocals. It’s been a song that I’ve turned to at so many different points in my life that my heart overflows with nostalgia when I hear it. “This childish heart won’t wait / it dances, keeps me awake” is my favourite (correct) lyric, and I cherish this Joy Formidable track above all others.
After penning such a passionate essay about The Big Roar, it might surprise you to know that I didn’t review the record when it was first released. When I looked up some reviews of the album by respected music publications, one labelled it as a “brit-pop” revival record. The only nineties influences I can hear are grunge and shoegaze, but these comparisons are all tiresome rhetoric, distracting us from the most important thing – The Joy Formidable just sound really fucking good on this album. Getting weighed down by the technicalities of “who” or “what” a band sound like is tedious. It’s much more enjoyable to just shamelessly fan girl over their record instead.