The Joy Formidable show a softer side on 'Wolf's Law'
For all the powerful imagery suggested by the title Wolf’s Law, the best moments on The Joy Formidable’s new album turn out to be its most restrained. A reference to a theory by scientist Julius Wolff that postulates, human bones harden as a response to stress.
The record’s title poses an interesting new potential to explore the fragility often missing from the gigantic sound of 2011’s The Big Roar. Indeed, Wolf’s Law finds singer/guitarist/composer Ritzy Bryan stripping down her songs in the calm orchestral swells that accent her powerful voice on closer, “The Turnaround” and the piano-led hidden track “Wolf’s Law.”
Perhaps the most revealing moment on the album is the sublime “Silent Treatment,” a song that entirely abstains from using the complex textures found on the rest of the album in favor of a single, detuned acoustic guitar.
With nothing more than some chords and a few stray notes to compete with, Bryan creates her most sincere vocals yet, crooning great lines like “I’ll take the easy cynicism, less talking, more reason” and “I’ll take the silent treatment off your hands” with emotive power that would have been lost among swelling strings and amped up drumbeats.
Beyond the sonic minimalism that is featured on _Wolf’s Law_’s best work, The Joy Formidable also manages to crank up the guitars to evoke a wonderful, weird effect on tracks like album highlights “Tendons” and “Maw Maw Song.”
Despite a fuzzy vocoder hook that sounds straight out of Kanye West’s latest album, “Tendons” maintains a beauty that places it comfortably alongside “Silent Treatment.” “Maw Maw Song,” on the other hand, succeeds merely on the merit of its playfulness.
Somehow alternating between fast psych-punk and a massive sludgy hook worthy of Black Sabbath, “Maw Maw Song” is the kind of song that makes you realize just how much The Joy Formidable loves making and listening to music.
In fact, the song is so infectious that by the time Bryan hammers out an insane mathcore solo over the rhythm section’s pounding sludge, the faceless orchestral textures that feature on almost every other song are temporarily forgiven.
While The Joy Formidable is on the whole better known for its gigantic Mellon Collie-esque textures than its forays into Sabbath sludge, one can’t help but wish the band had ventured out a bit farther with songs like “Forest Serenade” and “The Leopard and the Lung.”
Excepting a hook inexplicably lifted from Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team,” a song like “Forest Serenade” is perfectly acceptable as a piece of music, boasting nice lyrics and a typically anthemic vocal from Bryan.
However, when placed alongside tracks like “Silent Treatment” or the frantic post-punk of early highlight “Bats,” the smooth sheen of The Joy Formidable’s sound simply doesn’t seem like enough anymore.
Thankfully, Wolf’s Law features enough killer moments to suggest the band has more in store for the future. At this point, though, Bryan and Co. still have some growing to do before its music becomes as solid as its bones.