Anyone who has followed The Joy Formidable from The Big Roar through Wolf’s Law has every right to be very excited from the release of this third album, Hitch. A promise from a band that the new record will be minimal and raw is usually one greeted with enthusiasm from any fan base. While it would be overstating the cast to that The Joy Formidable have suffered from overproduction until now, it’s arguably something of this which makes the statement so tantalising. Of course, once a band gets into the studio all of this can change and the record might not quite reflect the live scenario they’re going for.
It’s not just that which makes it easy to get excited. Their attack on objectification in ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’, a single released ahead of the album, comes with the sort of opening skit that lends itself to rawness. "Give us a count in" echoes over as the track kicks into an angular riff that manages to be both furious and danceable. Lyrics of "When I let all the voices in, And my punctured heart’s feeling everything, Even when I think I’m trying, You’re the last thing on my mind" don’t quite reflect the angry tone of the video that came with it but it was a great taster for what was to come. It punctured your mind and let you know that this band still have so much to give.
The opening fuzz of ‘A Second In White’ seems perfect for backing up the message delivered before the record. It’s tremolo playing blends that rawness they’re aiming for with the euphoric and anthemic side they’ve displayed so well in the past. Tumbling drums stutter in the background and the sense of unease it creates an excitement for everything else that is to come on the record. ‘Radio of Lips’ follows and the chord progression oddly feels like something Springsteen might toss into stadiums and they make it work even if it’s far from the strongest track on the album.
The piano tinkles of ‘Liana’ bring the first semblance of calm to what can be a wonderfully hectic listen at times. It seems to rebel against the idea that you need to stay strong, with a particularly sarcastic lyric seething: "We’ll get through it all and be wonderful, wonderful." It’s a nice way to approach what is essentially the closest thing to a ballad the track has had so far. It flows into the oriental sounding ‘The Brook’ which is a track that seems most distant from the promise of rawness. That isn’t to discredit what is a ultra-fresh sounding track that could stick in your memory beyond the rest even if the flowing chorus and influences do make it sound like The Joy Formidable taking on a Disney track. In a good way. Just listen to it.
‘It’s Started’ opens with a drum solo that gives way to a thundering guitar. It drags you out of what has been an impressive dip in tempo immediately. The build of that percussion and the riffs that follow ensure this is likely to be the strongest live track. ‘The Gift’ follows opening with doom-laden synths and continuing in that theme. It works as a halfway point and great when you’re listening to the record as a whole but unlikely to make your playlists. As with ‘It’s Started’, ‘Running Hands With Night’ shakes you out of the reverie and does the whole loud/quiet thing Nirvana did so well but across a whole album as well as from verse to chorus. This monster approaches seven minutes and it would be their most ambitious track if not for the closer. Whether it needs to be quite that length for what is achieved is debatable.
‘Fog’ borrows the guitar style done so well by the likes of Editors and Interpol but doesn’t sound derivative. ‘Underneath the Petal’ is all raw-acoustic finger-picking with the sound of the fingers changing positions on the fretboard particularly noticeable. It transforms halfway through and you’re hit by layers of noise sometime after the chorus sings: "We’ll be alright now, we’ll be alright now, we’ve got our own way." It reverts back to finger-picking for a poignant outro.
‘Blowing Fire’ slightly slips into the late album trap of being a little bit disposable and probably ranks alongside 'Radio of Lips' in terms of tracks that could have been left off to nudge up the overall quality. Still, it’s not a bad track and undoubtedly some listeners will disagree.
‘Don’t Let Me Know’ then closes the album in a style that manages to encapsulate everything they do. It’s delicate and aggressive, minimal and monstrous, euphoric and crushing with several different segments that don’t leave you wishing the track had been split up. It’s not self-indulgent in the way it does this and is a genuine achievement.
So Hitch is a startling achievement of creativity. It doesn’t reinvent The Joy Formidable wheel but it refines everything they’ve done until this point and presents their most complete package yet. Despite aiming for rawness, they’ve managed to present the absolute best of themselves here and it would be a shock not to see this record feature prominently come Listmas.
8Luke Beardsworth's Score