At this point, The Joy Formidable are never going to be as hyped as they once were. 2011’s The Big Roar (and, to a lesser extent, 2013’s Wolf’s Law) were the sort of indie-rock albums that worked at a particular moment in time when that genre was truly exciting to many, and thus, actively trying to recapture that on 2016’s Hitch led to a fairly disappointing listen. Even from the outset though, AAARTH takes a much different approach, now striving to be accepted for the band they are now through the medium of the mysticism and landscape of the Utah / Arizona border where it was records.
That all definitely leads to a much stronger album on the whole, and with a newfound acquisition of dreamier, psychedelic sounds, AAARTH serves as the most immersive album The Joy Formidable have perhaps ever released. In the storming, percussive grooves of Y Bluen Eira or the woozier slow-burns of Cicada (Land On Your Back) and Dance Of The Lotus, it becomes apparant how important atmosphere is to this album, and where The Joy Formidable shine is in utilising that closer, claustrophobic feeling to their advantage. This isn’t a heavy album by any means, but in scuzzier instrumental passages and a greater sense of scope on tracks like Caught On A Breeze, it’s a lot more imposing and robust.
Of course, that isn’t always the case, and AAARTH has its fair share of moments where it can be a bit too unresponsive for its own good (see the spiraling drone of All In All for the worst offender), but for an album that does have a tendency to run a bit long, it doesn’t feel encumbered by unreasonable amounts. Part of that is Ritzy Bryan’s more ethereal, breathy vocal tone, wisely kept as the default to allow some instance of breathing room a lot of the time, and in a track like Absence with its fragile piano and synths, the whole thing can sound quite beautiful. When The Joy Formidable are able to bring every element together, AAARTH produces moments bordering on transcendent.
Sadly they’re only moments though, and it’s those inconsistencies that render this as a good album overall above anything else. It definitely has its flaws, but the best tracks here are proof that, if The Joy Formidable could consolidate those into an entire album, it could be something truly outstanding. Playing to their own beat is a tactic that’s working well for them, and AAARTH is the implication that it’s only going to get better further down the line.
For fans of: Silversun Pickups, We Were Promised Jetpacks, The Naked And Famous
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘AAARTH’ by The Joy Formidable is released on 28th September on Hassle Records.