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 I was trying to impress. Naturally, that crush faded over time, but my sheltered ears had been introduced to a new world of music outside of the charts. It’s that priceless personal affiliation with the songs on The Joy Formidable’s debut album The Big Roar that’s kept me listening to the record 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. I bought the limited edition boxset which included the album, a pin badge, a CD of live recordings and a piece of Ritzy’s smashed guitar. I worked part-time in retail earning minimum wage back then, so it took a hefty chunk out of my pay-check, but I felt like I’d struck gold.
The record was littered with singles I already knew – ‘Whirring’, ‘Austere’, ‘Cradle’ & ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’ – so listening for the first time flooded me with familiar excitement. 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. At the time, I thought it was a bold move to open an album with a 40 second cacophony of indiscernible clacking noises, but it laid the foundation for the spiralling opener ‘The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie,’ which rushes the ears with swelling riffs and urgent vocals. This track, along with ‘I Don’t Want To See You Like This’ brim with cathartic guitar wails and commanding beats, encouraging listeners to be “courage’s child” and break away from the past.
I remembered the stomping rhythms of ‘Cradle’, Austere’, ‘The Magnifying Glass’, ‘Chapter 2’ and ‘A Heavy Abacus’ because I’d heard the band play them live. After seeing The Joy Formidable headline The Garage in Islington in 2009, I remember leaving the venue with the overwhelming feeling that I’d 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. The thudding drum beats and punchy lyrics kept me stomping on those floorboards for hours. Even now, I can remember pushing open the double doors to enter the club, hearing a Joy Formidable song playing and feeling like I’d truly arrived at a place of happiness. Maybe I’m just overly sentimental, but the trio provided the soundtrack to so many of my clearest memories.
My ribs still remember the thrill of being hit by the ear-swelling sounds of ‘Buoy’ when I heard it live for the first time at Kentish Town Forum. 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. Bassist Rhydian takes the vocal lead on ‘Llaw=Wall’, which like ‘Buoy’ has a colossal drop in.
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. It’s 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.
After penning such a passionate essay about The Big Roar, it might surprise you to know that I didn’t review the album when it was first released. When I looked up some reviews by respected music publications, one labelled it a “brit-pop” revival record, but I don’t think that’s the best comparison to make. The most important thing is, The Joy Formidable just sound really fucking good on this album.