Roughly a decade and a half since forming, Welsh alternative rock trio The Joy Formidable release their fifth studio album, Into the Blue. The new record is their second for Hassle Records, a label they signed to after their self-described “really horrible experience” with their previous label. The eleven new songs find the band utilizing a formula that had worked well for them in the past. That formula being the cranking out of energetic and emotional guitar-based rock that walks a precarious line between the alternative and dream pop genres.
The new album’s five-plus minute title track asks a lot of the listener right away. Fortunately, the pleasantly swaying mid-tempo composition is a decent opener. The song is broken up nicely after it becomes a duet, with bassist Rhydian Dafydd’s vocals answering lead vocalist/guitarist Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan’s initial verse and chorus. The edgy, distortion-heavy “Chimes” kicks things up nicely, building tension with Matthew James Thomas’ drums stopping and starting over Ritzy’s blurry chord progression, working well with the appropriate chorus of “always running.” The back-to-back tracks “Sevier” and “Interval” each begin differently but ultimately end with every instrument’s sound compressed to the point of suffocation so as not to allow anything potentially interesting to stand out. Mercifully, the stifling production eases off for a bit during “Farrago” which allows for some of Bryan’s excellent lead guitar work to shine through, if only for just over a minute.
A change-up finally arrives during the album’s second half with the Dafydd-sung ballad “Somewhere New”. Accompanied only by an acoustic guitar played in a flamenco style, the moment, while certainly beautiful, is a bit jarring and a definite oddball amidst the rest of the album’s songs which, the majority of, make the trio sound more like crummy post-grunge bands from the early 2000s. Perhaps the group’s recent move to America is to blame for this unfortunate influence.
Into the Blue exits the way it enters, with another long song, this one over six minutes. The first quarter of “Left Too Soon” is both annoyingly whispery and wispy. Matthew James Thomas’ drumming here is mechanical and uninteresting throughout as he hammers away at the bass drum and snare exhaustingly, only occasionally swatting a cymbal. Predictably, “Left Too Soon” ends with the same asphyxiatingly overly produced dross that comprises the majority of songs on the record. The standout moments are few and far between on Into the Blue. The Joy Formidable’s first album of the new decade is an unfortunate exercise in derivation when compared to their considerably more audacious output during the latter half of the twenty-tens.