There aren’t many contemporary bands attempting The Joy Formidable’s particular kind of loud, surging guitar pop. The Welsh power trio has a booming, melodic style—reminiscent of the Lush/Ride “dreampop” era, but cleaner, or like a more modernized version of Big Country’s “big music.” It helps too that The Joy Formidable has simplified its songwriting to stay out of the way of its sound. The band’s second album, Wolf’s Law, is anchored by easy-to-remember songs like “Tendons” and “Bats,” in which frontwoman Ritzy Bryan repeats a catchy phrase over and over (“tendons that we are / tendons stretched too far,” and “I had a reason / but the reason went away,” respectively) over pummeling drums and buzzy guitars, trying to make sure the words ring in the listeners’ heads along with the music. Even when the structure of a song is as involved as Wolf’s Law’s “The Leopard And The Lung”—a swirling six-minute epic that sounds like an early Sinéad O’Connor song, backed by My Bloody Valentine in full Loveless mode—the individual pieces are still tight, direct, impactful.
Wolf’s Law comes out strong with “This Ladder Is Ours,” which begins with a swell of strings before bringing in Rhydian Dafydd’s fat bass and Bryan’s chiming guitar and voice, creating a feeling of precarious-but-thrilling ascent; and the album ends well with the title track, which starts as a plaintive piano ballad and then gets loud and stormy, like the climax of a blockbuster fantasy movie. The songs in between are just as evocative, with standout tracks “Maw Maw Song,” “Forest Serenade,” and “The Hurdle” sounding grand and ancient, as though they’ve come roaring out of the mystic wilds of Olde Europe. But the most important trick that The Joy Formidable finesses is to take that sense of grandeur and apply it to today’s world, to ordinary people trying to cope with stress and loneliness. The songs on this album are echoing, but not distant; they connect on a personal level, and then pull the listener along in a mighty heave. Over and over Wolf’s Law repeats what worked out so well on “Whirring,” the standout track of 2011’s The Big Roar: Establish the hook, step on the guitar pedal, and go, go, go, go.