From this plaintive ballad you’d never guess that The Joy Formidable are one of the loudest and feedback-happy indie pop groups on the scene. They outshine their peers by sheer fire and fury. Which, in an ocean of tinkly keyboards, is frankly a breath of fresh air. But even the most fierce frontwoman – which Ritzy Bryan most certainly is – needs to take a quiet moment sometimes, and she’s not much of an artist if she doesn’t know how to be vulnerable. I don’t necessarily want to hear an entire album’s worth of plaintive ballads, but I very much want to hear at least one. Because I want to see another side of the artist, get to know them better as a person and whatnot, you know. Are they really someone I can relate to. I can relate to three-quarters fierce and loud and one part plaintive and sad.
Do you find noise and feedback relaxing? I guess that a lot of people find that it soothes their soul. I can’t say that I do, unless it’s tempered with a lot of melodicism. The Joy Formidable is a great noise band that tempers their guitar grit with lyricism and beauty. Obviously, I’m a big fan of indie pop groups that focus on pretty melodies and pretty vocals and have pretty faces, which may feel a little white-bread to rock purists raised on power chords. The Joy Formidable is all of those things and the power chords, so, basically, most of my favorite things all in one place, and an honorable addition to the Girls Who Rock pantheon.
The Joy Formidable released their third album in 2016, to very little fanfare. Which is unfortunate, because they deserve fanfare. At a time when guitar rock has somehow become under-represented, we need bands that understand both loudness and melodicism. The Joy Formidable are outstandingly good at balancing heavy feedback with pretty vocals, which is very nearly a lost art. Ritzy Bryan may not be the It-Girl she deserves to be, but she’s the guitar hero we need her to be.
Hey, did you know that The Joy Formidable released an album in 2016? No, how could you? Unless you actively follow their moves on social media, it’s hard to keep track of what indie bands are up to. The only mainstream music related publication still in print is Rolling Stone, and if anything, their focus has narrowed of late. I’ve heard that in the UK, there’s still a number of music magazines that actually cover new music and rising artists and the indie scene, but I don’t have access to those and I’m guessing you don’t either. My point is, there are many exciting events that occur without much fanfare from whatever you call the media, so you really have to do your own research. I would really love to see Ritzy Bryan get the rock star treatment; she could be on the cover of Rolling Stone, mostly naked in a lewd pose photographed by a known serial rapist. Ok, no, you know what, just keep doing what you’re doing Ritzy, you don’t need that shit. Indie artists can go on being indie artists and I think you’ll find it worthwhile to do the footwork, so to speak, of keeping up with them yourself.
What’s the latest news from The Joy Formidable, since they broke big in 2013? The usual touring and promotion, of course. Par for the course for a still-emerging band. They’re also taking on a more unusual project. As you know, The Joy Formidable are from the north of Wales, and they are very much in touch with their Welsh identity. So they’re launching a series of Welsh language singles, each featuring a song of their own and a B-Side by another Welsh artist. They’re calling it Arthurol, and the going rate is £5.00. Oh, and there’s also an art contest to select the sleeve design. I don’t know what percentage of people in Wales see themselves primarily as Welsh, or still speak the language, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time anyone famous has made it an artistic endeavor to promote Welsh culture.
Her name is Ritzy Bryan and she is the very awesome voice and lead guitar of The Joy Formidable. There’s an undeniable sea change in what rock band lineups look like; what was once an anomaly – young women who sing loudly and carry a big guitar – in now increasingly standard. So standard that the journalists who document pop culture no longer feel compelled to preface every group featuring female members with a disclaimer that they’re ‘coed’. At least, not every time. It’s progress, imbecilically long overdue, that there are now dozens of bands running around selling records and earning acclaim without stopping to explain that, yes, they have girl members, and no, those girls aren’t there to be eye candy. That being said, not all of those bands are destined to be remembered for changing people’s lives, and not all those young women will mature into the kind of cultural figures younger generations will look up to. Survival in the rock world is a tough call, and many talented people just don’t make it very far. Which is exactly why this is an exciting time to be watching the musicsphere; there are a lot of cool contenders who show incredible promise. The excitement lies in watching which ones will go on to build significant careers, which ones are never heard from again, and which ones flame out in a blaze of glory. It’s too early to place bets – nor am I a gambling person – but I have high hopes for Ritzy Bryan and The Joy Formidable. They’re already ahead of the curve for having a sound that’s memorable and stands out from the crowd of Fake New Wave, Electropop, Sensitive Mustache, PostEmo, and other burgeoning brand new genres that all seem to kind of run together in a pleasant but blandish haze. For one thing, The Joy Formidable makes a lot more noise than most of their peers. They know the value of going all the way to 11. With their taste for deafening walls of guitar noise and huge choruses, they could conceivably grow to fill stadiums. I haven’t seen them play (yet) but I’m guessing they put on an epic show.
This time last year I was making a resolution to improve my life. Nothing too specific or unrealistic like ‘lose 15.85 pounds’ or ’embark on a fabulous new career’. Just work on making my life a little bit less shitty. And guess what! I’ve succeeded! I’ve improved my life in little increments all across the board. One of the most significant betterments of last year was I bought a car, after four years of shlepping it out on public transit. And incidentally, it’s because of the car that I’ve made another improvement. It’s been an unprecedentedly good year in music, and it’s because I now listen to the radio in my car that I even know about it. A little shout out to iHeart Austin is due here, for being a fantastic radio station that plays great new music as though it were actually popular. Last year I was so discouraged the shortage of albums I really loved I didn’t even do a best-of list. This year I’m doing an expanded best-of, and I’ve decided to make it a double-whammy, with separate lists for albums and singles.
- The Next Day – David Bowie
The biggest and most important event of the year was, without doubt, the unexpected comeback of David Bowie. After a near decade of silence, he sprang a new song on us almost exactly a year ago, followed it up with an album, and continued to feed us videos throughout the year, all without saying a word to the press or participating in any of the usual publicity activities that are supposed to accompany a new release.
*Best David Bowie Song* Valentine’s Day
2. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
If it wasn’t for David Bowie defaulting to number one, this would hold the top spot. It’s probably the album I listened to the most, and will have future associative memories of. In an age of electronic super-saturation, Daft Punk, the guys who helped precipitate the trend in the first place, did a complete one-eighty and made a disco album. Not a fake disco album, a real disco album, with no less than Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder bringing the authenticity. So old-school and yet so modern.
3. Reflektor – Arcade Fire
I’ve always filed Arcade Fire under ‘good but not that great’, but now they’ve finally graduated to being great. They’ve provided the best song of the year, which I can only describe as propulsive, and the rest of their hefty double album is pretty impressive too. Dense and ambitious both musically and intellectually.
*Best Fake David Bowie Song* Reflektor
4. Pure Heroine – Lorde
Witness the improbable overnight success of an Aukland teenager who sings with the sophistication of a woman three times her age. She might sound as though she sprang into the pop stratosphere fully formed out of literal nowhere, but Ella Yelich-O’Connor has been groomed for stardom by Universal Records since age 14. She is 17 years old now and released her first single and EP just last year, to immediate acclaim. That, my friends, is the best possible example of a record company getting it right, in terms of discovering and nurturing young talent. The amazing thing is that Universal has presented Lorde to us not as a commodity but as an artist. It’s pretty clear that she has an infinite future as such.
5. We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic – Foxygen
Psychedelic music is not dead! Foxygen’s third album sounds like it was funneled through a magic time portal directly from the Summer of Love. I suspect that the whole Haight-Ashbury vibe is pure pasticeh, but it sounds authentic enough that when they pop up on my iPod I fleetingly wonder what long-forgotten nugget from 1969 have I stumbled across. It’s also a reminder that a lot sixties psychedelia was total hokum, all awash with drug-fueled self-seriousness, and it’s really best enjoyed with tongue firmly in cheek.
6. Wolf’s Law – The Joy Formidable
Their name captures their essence. The Joy Formidable is high energy, with euphoric vocal hooks and catchy melodies and at the same time formidable aggression and heavy guitars. Original enough that I can’t instantaneously place who their big inspiration would be. Definitely one of the most enjoyable out of a crop of young indie bands breaking big right now.
7. Woman – Rhye
Sexy bedroom music with a distinct sixties cocktail lounge vibe. The slow-burn torch singer vocals are so impressive and bring so much atmosphere. Imagine my shock when I found out the singer is really a dude named Milosh. Yeah, he always sings like that. I wonder if there’s some element of camp here that I’m missing, but it doesn’t feel so. In the end, knowing that I’m not hearing the sexy woman I first imagined but just some man with an unusual voice doesn’t detract from the overall effect of sleepy sensuality.
8. Isles – Wild Belle
A group that struck me the first time I heard them. Singer Natalie Bergman has a memorable voice, and she and her bandmate brother have a boatload of influences in play, from the reggae of Keep You, to classic soul and jazz. They’re definitely playing the retro angle – just see the videos.
9. Mosquito – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Hideous album cover aside, this might just be the best Yeah Yeah Yeahs album yet. It’s certainly their most diverse. Still plenty of their old punk energy, but with lots of unexpected touches, like an elevating gospel choir. I don’t remember them being a particularly touchy-feely band in the past, so the number of emotionally naked ballads on this record is unprecedented. Turns out they’re really good at it, too.
10. The Bones of What You Believe – Chvrches
Chvrches is another new electro-pop/indie rock band that appears to have a bright future, making uplifting catchy pop tunes that hit the sweet spot. Call them children of Blondie, if you will. They have an indie edge and an affinity for synthesizers, and a cool girl image in the person of singer Lauren Mayberry.