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.

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