Tag Archive: The Joy Formidable


A Balloon Called MoaningScore: 93

I’ve owned The Joy Formidable‘s debut EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, for over a year now. Since then, I’ve embarked on monthly TJF listening binges, lasting up to a week at a time. So why have I waited this long to review one of my favorite albums of 2009? Throughout the year, it was only available to the Brits, Japanese, and savvy blog-lurkers with PayPal accounts (and they’d already heard the good news). But the EP has finally been set for an American release on May 4 (Black Bell), and it’s time the rest of these kids got educated.

It’s not fair to call A Balloon Called Moaning a “grower”, implying that, at some point in the past, I didn’t like it so much. If anything, it is the sort of monstrosity that evolves from great to phenomenal. I admit, there were times when I didn’t fully comprehend the genius of The Joy Formidable. I thought the opener, “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade”, was ok, but long and boring—that is, I did, until one day last summer, when it emerged from my subconscious (much like it does on the record) and planted itself at the forefront of my mind until I listened to it half a dozen times to satisfy my craving.

One of the great things about TJF is that they are a band that works on multiple levels. Constantly swirling among a sea of shoegaze fuzz is an innate pop sensibility, always melodic but never overbearing. Though other reviewers have suggested it, I think it would be a mistake (and contrary to their nature) to push the pop too far to the front. As it stands you could power most of North Wales with the amount of energy expended in any given TJF performance—a trait apparent in their live shows and recordings as well as select tracks at the heart of A Balloon Called Moaning.

So while A Balloon Called Moaning will make pleasant surface listening for most any shoegaze or dream pop fan, it is with more focused listening that the music really begins to shimmer in all it’s fuzzy brilliance. Listen, for instance, to the half-step guitar dissonances in the second verse and the double kick drum underlying the post-chorus (around 2:45) of “The Greatest Light…”. That moment comes across as the climax of the song until the final 45 seconds, with vocalist Ritzy Bryan repeating “happy for you”, propels the listener into a relentless four-song barrage including the EP’s three pitch perfect singles (“Cradle”, “Austere”, and “Whirring”) and the obsession-worthy “While the Flies”. The downtempo (and down-volume) “9669” offers a welcome respite before the band flip the fuzz pedal switch and unleash their final two tracks: the high-octane “The Last Drop” and “Ostrich” (which is as shoegaze-y as this band gets).

About a year ago, when I first suggested people keep an eye on North Wales-via-London power fuzz trio, The Joy Formidable, there were mixed reactions: our British constituency agreed; a good portion of the Americans were pissed that we were ignoring the great Grizzly Bear and stopped reading. Since then, they have toured with Editors and Passion Pit, played sold out shows in NYC, and are preparing a short US tour in early May (with a full-length album waiting in the wings). For those who have stuck with us over the last year, no doubt you’re not surprised by this. If you’re just now condescending to give us a second look, welcome back, hipsters! You’ve a lot of catching up to do.

The Indie Handbook: best of 2009

The best according to Kristin:

10. Our Temperance Movement, Cats on Fire (Matinee)
9. A Balloon Called Moaning, The Joy Formidable (self-released)
8. The Yearling, Piney Gir (Hotel)
7. The Life of the World to Come, The Mountain Goats (4AD)
6. Where the Wild Things Are [soundtrack], Karen O. and the Kids (Interscope)
5. Tarpits and Canyonlands, Bombadil (Ramseur Records)
4. God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade / Matador)
3. Aim and Ignite, fun. (Nettwerk)
2. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD)
1. Know Better Learn Faster, Thao w/ the Get Down Stay Down (Kill Rock Stars)

Honorable mentions: A Very Cherry Christmas 5, various artists (Cherryade); Reverence for Fallen Trees, The Black Atlantic (In a Cabin With / Beep! Beep! Back up the Truck)

The best according to Eric:

10. Rockwell, Anni Rossi (4AD) – If you caught Camera Obscura on their US tour this summer, you now have a better idea just what one girl and her viola are capable of, but I saw Anni twice this year, and I still can’t believe it.

9. Actor, St. Vincent (4AD) – Though my review of this album for a certain e-zine was “improved” by some hack of an editor who considered my avoidance of clichés downright unpalatable, Annie Clark remains one of the great musical geniuses at work these days.

8. The Big Machine, Emilie Simon (Barclay/Universal) – It’s a departure from her last (and my favorite) album, Végétal, but this, the first of what you might call Emilie’s “American” recordings, proves that a creative powerhouse starting anew is still better than any number of pop idols doing what they do best. [interview]

7. Uam, Julie Fowlis (Machair/Shoeshine/Cadiz) – I hesitated to include this since none of the songs on this album were even written in this century, but few (if any) have done more to make one of the world’s great musical traditions relevant again than Ms. Fowlis. That combined with impeccable musicianship and a killer set of tunes spanning several centuries are enough to obliterate my reticence.

6. Pays Sauvage, Emily Loizeau (Polydor) – On her sophomore release, Emily Loizeau copes with, among other things, the loss of her father. In the process, she will tear your heart to shreds – and you will never again be more happy to be heartbroken. If you had told me a year ago that a French woman would prove this year to have a better grasp of American roots music and slave songs than almost anyone I’ve heard in recent memory, I’d have written you off as a complete nutjob (no offense).

5. My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura (4AD) – Apparently, it’s been a good year for 4AD. “French Navy” is probably the catchiest song by a band I like that your average Starbucks customer may have actually heard this year. Still, I think “Honey in the Sun” is my favorite from the second Scottish act on this list.

4. Bitte Orca, Dirty Projectors (Domino) – The only album on this list that I do not actually own and I am ashamed. Even worse, I missed their Columbus show this year because I suck. I streamed this about 3,487 times when it was streaming on the NPR website. Holy crap, it’s brilliant.

3. Lungs, Florence + the Machine (Universal Republic/Island) – You Brits have been hearing about Florence Welch for ages now, but I guess Paste hasn’t given the American indie subculture permission to trade in their Grizzly Bear CDs for one of the most monumental voices of the decade yet, not to mention the super sexy percussion. But her time will come, kids. Now is your chance to get in on the ground floor. I suspect that, if I’d had more than two months with this album before writing this, Florence + the Machine would be finishing even higher on this list.

2. A Balloon Called Moaning/First You Have to Get Mad, The Joy Formidable (self-released) – If you have not heard of The Joy Formidable by now, you a) live outside of the UK and/or b) do not read this blog enough. Technically, these are two albums, one studio and one live and there is a lot of overlap between them. But together, they prove two things conclusively: The Joy Formidable are the best unsigned band in the world (yes, I said it); and they are the band to watch in 2010. If you don’t already own these albums, ask yourself why and the go out and buy them. Then, when they play their three shows in NYC with Passion Pit in January and all those cool Brooklyn kids think they’ve discovered something groundbreaking, you can (gently) remind them that you and some unenlightened hick from the Midwest got there a year before them.

1. The Love Language, The Love Language (Bladen County) – This album took 150% more turns in my car stereo than any other album released in 2009. That fact alone made my album of the year decision an easy one. (Not a bad accomplishment for one guy sitting alone in his bedroom.) Then there is the fact that the live incarnation of The Love Language, which is considerably larger, put on what is, at the very least, the second best show I saw this year (Los Campesinos are pretty phenomenal in their own right). I am speechless just thinking about it, so go back and read what I wrote after that show, if you’re interested. And, Stuart McLamb, if you’re reading this, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for this record. I hope I won’t have to wait too long for a second one.

Honorable Mentions: Welcome to the Walk Alone, The Rumble Strips (Island); God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl (Rough Trade/Matador)

That wasn’t actually a question.  Prime numbers are sexy, and indie music is sexy, and our Best of 2009 THUS FAR lists are sexier than Paste’s.  Also, more interesting.  Anyway, so, I read Eric’s list and decided perhaps I should make one of my own, because we do, of course have slightly different tastes, and although 4 out of my 13 picks are by artists he also picked, my song choices are different.  So, you should probably just combine our lists and make one massive playlist of wonder.

1) “Cradle” - The Joy Formidable Yes,  this song is number one on my list for a reason.  I love it with all my heart, and I watch the video over and over again wishing for her hair, and a see-saw, and my childhood back.

2) “You’re  Not Coming Home Tonight” – First Aid Kit These Swedes speak to me.  Good luck buying this EP.

3) “Because We’re Dead” – Slow Club This was a really difficult pick for me, as there are so many incredible songs on Yeah, So.  Maybe it isn’t so predictable a choice because of its pace and sparsity, but that’s exactly why I picked it. 

4) “Troll Nacht” – The Dodos You just heard this a couple days ago when they began streaming the album online…I guess there was an album leakage, so why not stream it for everyone’s enjoyment?

5) “Some Day” – We’ll Make It Right Another tough decision, another glorious album.  “We’ll Make It Bright” was a close second.  I like when they say “you better run no matter who you are”–it’s so cute!

6) “Dance Serene” – The Hard to Get I know, I know!  Eric and the producer both say “Good at That” is the best song on the EP, and yet, I can’t help saying that “Dance Serene” is the best, and not only that, it is also one of the best songs of the year, beating out all of Paste Mag’s crap.  (I don’t mean crap in a bad way, promise).  It’s catchy, French, and fits Melissa’s and Tim’s voices in a really unique and charming way.  So, “Dance  Serene” it is.

7) “Serve Them Well” – Swimming in Speakers I swear I’m not trying to argue with Eric.  Some of these artists have reached such a degree of quality that it’s really truly difficult to pick a “best” song.  Although, I am right, and “Serve Them Well” is the best.

8 ) “Songs in the Night” - Samantha Crain & the Midnight Shivers Samantha Crain is so wonderfully sincere and vulnerable in her music.  This is a brilliant album.  Go see them live if you can.

9) “Young Adult Friction” – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart I like their sound, and their angst, and I think this song is fabulous.  I’m only just beginning to get a grasp on life in my twenties, and they help me.  Also I will review them soon, if you want.

10) “On My Usual Catch Up with Cecilia” – Hari & Aino Okay, Eric, I agree.  Adore these guys.

p.s. I think Chris Graham should do my wedding photography

11)  “Step Off the Map and Float” – Library Voices My new obsession.  I’ll be reviewing their EP soon, I hope, even though I did sort of already rave about their myspace page.  Whatever!  p.s.  I think Chris Graham, who did these headshots, should most definitely do my wedding photography.

12) “Snow Room” – The Secret Life of Sofia Okay, I’m kind of guessing about the release date for this one, and I apologize if it’s not a 2009 song.  But these things are difficult to find sometimes.  Anyway, I love it for its ethereal qualities, and I’m waiting to see The  Secret Life of Sofia become bigger and bigger.

13) “The Trapeze Swinger” – Iron & Wine It might be cheating because it’s a compilation album, so the song was not, you know, first ever heard in 2009.  But the song is one of my favorites, with the most strangely beautiful lyrics you may ever hear, backed by Sam Beam’s classically, expectedly rapturing acoustics.

And there’s my list, love it or hate it.  (Just kidding, I know you’ll love it).

17 is kind of a sexy, unlike Megan Fox

Someone from Paste magazine recently posted his top 25 songs of 2009 so far (I’m too lazy to go looking for it, so you can find it for yourself). I only agreed, I think, with one of the tracks on his list, so I have made my own. I’m also too lazy to actually come up with 25 songs and put them in any sort of real order, so here are 17 songs, more or less in the order they ranked in my mind at the time I posted this. (Why 17? I don’t know. I like it. It’s prime number and a rather attractive, if slightly abrasive, one at that.) I’m sure, if I had an entire day to work on this (and didn’t have to drive to Chicago after work tomorrow), it would probably look somewhat different. Also, I can’t promise that these all came out in 2009, it’s a little hard to tell with unsigned bands.

1) On My Usual Catch Up with Cecilia – Hari and Aino I think you all already know how I feel about them

2) Close My Eyes - The Peekers Life in the Air is a pretty fabulous album. This song reminds me a lot of Pink Martini’s “Sympathique” 

3) In Knowing – Swimming in Speakers Yeah, we love them a lot. It looks like a lot of people are coming round to our way of thinking.

4) Good at That – The Hard To Get It’s encouraging to know that producer agrees that this is the best song on the EP 

5) Bobby on Repeat – Parlours I haven’t told you about Parlours yet, but I will. Right now it’s a handful of demos recorded by Dana Halferty but I am very excited about the future of this project.

6) And Suddenly – The School Granted, it’s not my favorite song on the MySpace page, but it is my favourite of the tracks to be released this year. 

7) Funny Little Frog – God Help the Girl Yeah, it’s a cover, but Brittany Stallings’ voice is brilliant. This is one sexy recording. 

8 ) Sad Eyed God of Lovers & Drunks – Bitter Things I forgot how much I love this band until I listened through their MySpace again in preparation for this list. 

9) At Least I’m Not as Sad as I Used to Be – fun The new album will be out in August, but you knew that already 

10) French Navy – Camera Obscura This is the one that made the Paste list.

11) Mess of Hope – This is Ember I am sorry to admit that I haven’t really thought about This is Ember since Dutch Week. I miss them. 

12) Keep Cooler – Nancy They are from Brazil. I am pretty sure it is not pronounced quite the way it looks, but I might be making that up.

13) Seventeen – Casxio *Note the irony…

14) Sweetheart – Mari Persen Mari is also a member of The Royalties, from Bergen, Norway. The Royalties have an American tour coming up in October, but it looks like it is going to be limited to the NYC and L.A. areas. Sad. I like them a lot. Mari’s solo work is more inspired by Blossom Dearie and will appeal to fans of the early Cardigans (like Emmerdale and Life). There is an album due out around October.

15) The Magic Between Us – Venus Hum I still don’t really know when the album is going to be coming out, but I’m gettin’ antsy. I love you, Annette. (By the way, is anyone keeping track of the crushes I have admitted to since starting this blog?)

16) Whirring – The Joy Formidable Technically, this song was released in 2008 on A Balloon Called Moaning, but the eponymous 7-inch came out in May. My copy is autographed because they love me and because I pre-ordered. 

17) It’s not the End of the World, Jonah – The Secret History I admit it. This kind of sneaked in at the end of 2008, but I didn’t hear it until February of this year. That is the only reason it falls so low on the list, otherwise it would probably hover somewhere around 6 or 7.

So, there’s my hastily assembled “17 Best of 2009″ list. You probably think I’m a complete whackjob. That’s fine. I’m used to it. Argue with me here or on Facebook.

Oh, I totally forgot that Dear Reader‘s Replace Why with Funny came out this year. In that case, stick “Dear Heart” somewhere up there in the top five.

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