Hitch – The Joy Formidable – album review by Danny Vagnoni
The Joy Formidable Roar into their third album with crunchy guitars and grinding styles. As a follow up to their Wolf’s Law (2013), it feels like a natural evolution as the band undulates between driving guitar rock and tender acoustic moments – both styles which parallel Hitch’s major themes of breakup and intimate loss. The record was self-produced and released on their label, C’Mon Let’s Drift, as well as Caroline.
As an aside, this breakup – between guitarist and vocalist Ritzy Bryan and bassist and backup vocalist Rhydian Dafydd – reflects in their stage presence; Bryan headbutts Dafydd in the midst of a guitar solo (not missing a beat), Dafydd lightly tousles Bryan’s hair between songs. In spite of the dripping melancholy of their record, their stage chemistry melts cynicism.
The record begins with a searing rock number, “A Second In White.” If Wolf’s Law was the grieving period of a breakup, “A Second In White” launches the listener with furious momentum into the first steps of moving on and presents an excellent opener to the album.
“The Last Thing On My Mind,” Hitch’s lead single, is the next significant juncture of the album. Following “Radio of Lips,” a fun song but structurally too similar to Wolf’s Law’s “This Ladder Is Ours,” “The Last Thing” delves more directly into a blues style jam than most other TJF tracks. They make it work, however, from Dafydd’s muted bass intro to Bryan’s white-knuckled guitar work throughout. Much like a lot of Bryan’s playing, listeners will notice more details – a flourish here, a slide there – with each listen.
From here the band turns up the melancholy with “Liana” and “The Brook,” a couplet that falls into place nicely at the center of the album. These slow the listener down after the first three tracks and remind us that moving on is a roller coaster process, equal parts excitement and nostalgia. “The Brook” yearns painfully, “I’m in love with what could have been/and it’s not real” alongside tight layered instrumentals including an implacable harp-like arpeggio throughout.
“It’s Started” is another searing rocker that leads into the subversive duo of “The Gift” and “Running Hands With The Night.” Dyfadd steps up as vocalist on “The Gift,” a slow, tender ballad that segues into “Running Hands With The Night” where Bryan resumes lead vocals. Dyfadd’s vocal performance is intimate, with breaths and pauses taking a significant role alongside the lyrics. By contrast, Bryan’s is aggressive, subverting the expected masculine/feminine vocal roles.
The closer, “Don’t Let Me Know,” synthesizes the bands style circa The Big Roar with their maturity since and, keeping with Hitch’s theme, a healthy dose of melancholy. The first half of “Don’t Let Me Know” treads the liminal space between despair and hope before landing on a cascading guitar arpeggio which ascends fluidly into a lush, beautiful synth progression that continues for most of the rest of the song, which combines the band’s skill at endjam-outros with lyrical and musical maturity. “Don’t Let Me Know” deserves its place as Hitch’s closer and places itself solidly in line with the likes of “Whirring,” and “The Leopard and The Lung.” Listen to this song last.
Some songs drag on a bit much, though. “Radio of Lips” is a culprit, clocking in at six and a half minutes, and the stylistic changes since Wolf’s Law are not as significant as The Big Roar to Wolf’s Law, so some songs may seem stale, like you can’t move on either. Maybe I wanted more Big Roar style jams (am I the one that can’t move on?), but ultimately the soaring rock and heartbroken yearning of Hitch make it a great addition to The Joy Formidable’s repertoire.
Though one is left wondering how Mr. Thomas (drums) feels. Did I mention he’s an amazing drummer?