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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012

The Joy Formidable’s Fragile Barrage

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“Wolf’s Law” is the title track to the band’s upcoming sophomore album, due Jan. 22, though somewhat confusingly, it won’t be on the album. “We just always saw it in some ways as an art piece; it belonged on its own,” explains singer-guitarist Ritzy Bryan. Nonetheless, she describes the song as a good indicator of the album. “It was one of the first songs we wrote for the album, and it evokes a lot of the themes and the message of the album,” she says.

With its sparse piano foundation and its soaring orchestral climax, the song also hints at the greater instrumental breadth on Wolf’s Law. Where The Joy Formidable’s aptly titled 2011 debut The Big Roar conveyed grand scope with little more than surging guitars and meaty bass riffs, the trio set out for a more varied sound this time.

“There’s a great deal of range on this album, from the orchestral to the intimate,” Bryan says. “I think some of the songs were conceived for with voice and minimal accompaniment in mind, so we tried to keep them more bare and stripped down. But at the same time, a lot of the tracks grew into fantastical, bombastic songs as well.”

The album’s statelier sound is in part a product of its recording circumstances. After months on the road, the band retreated to Portland, Maine and immersed themselves in the studio, free from distractions. “It was a beautiful location, very isolated, and I think that solitude gave us a strong kind of focus,” Bryan says. “We were completely consumed by making this record over the course of the three weeks we were there. It was a fast turnaround, but we went into those sessions eager to get back into the studio, and very hungry.”

Those ideal conditions were a far cry from the piecemeal recording sessions for The Big Roar, an often harried album that captured some very real frustrations the band was feeling at the time.

“We recorded The Big Roar in quite a claustrophobic, intense environment,” Bryan says. “We were grabbing any moment we could in between touring to record in this tiny room on top of each other in an attic in South London. At the same time, there were a lot of things going on with us personally, a lot of turbulence and relationship breakdowns, and you can hear that in that album. I wouldn’t say Wolf’s Law is us being content, or that we’ve ridden ourselves of all agitation, but the location we recorded it and the fact that we recorded it in one session ultimately brought a different focus to the album. It feels like a very direct piece of work, very direct and cohesive.”

For a band so deft at mining exhilaration from tumult, there’s a risk in moving on to calmer sounds, but Bryan doesn’t see it that way.

“We like music that has commitment and intent,” she says. “We don’t do things half-hearted. We like to commit, but I don’t think that always comes from things being loud. You can also have that commitment in your most fragile moments, so long as you’re saying something and you can stand behind it. You can dip in between genres, and you can put your hands into everything so long as you have a clear sense of yourself as an artist or as a band.”

The Joy Formidable play FM 102.1’s Big Snow Show 7 Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Rave with Silversun Pickups and IAMDYNAMITE at 8 p.m.