It’s odd how it works, but two of my favorite recent bands happen to be The Joy Formidable and The Twilight Sad. Their names are so fitting and the bands themselves almost complete opposites, like some kind of yin-yang of sound. The Twilight Sad is the dark, sulking, brooding music of the early evening moving toward night; The Joy Formidable is an explosion of ecstasy, like sun cutting through cloud cover or what a dog must feel when its owner has just come home.
The first of The Joy Formidable’s songs I’d heard was “Whirring,” which I found on a music blog in late 2009. It was a song that was hard to not get addicted to. It was buzzing indie pop with a sense of some impending burst of distortion – and, like some kind shoegaze summer blockbuster, it blowed up real good. I devoured their other two singles, the sing-songy “Cradle” and the moaning “Austere,” and was excited when I heard about their first shows stateside in early 2010.
A sense of joy pervades A Balloon Called Moaning. On “Cradle,” the twisty lyrics (“I can see he says what he means / I can’t say what he means when he says that / I’ll pretend a pretty pretend“) are shot out quick and sure with the glee of a school girl reciting a jump rope rhyme. There’s a sound like a mother’s music box on a few songs that brought an odd smile to my face. Ritzy Bryan’s first lines in “Whirring” are “This much delight / Sends columns to new heights.” One fan video for “Austere” consists of faces of people masturbating, each suffering their tiny deaths as the song builds into a toe-curling wash of sound that then sputters off with a bit of a satisfied sigh.
This joy is also emblematic of the band’s recent successes. Balloon is the first album on the Black Bell label, which was started by Passion Pit’s Ayad Al Adhamy. The Joy Formidable supported both Passion Pit and The Editors on tour, and got to open for Paul McCartney. They recently toured the west coast, they’ll be on an NME tour through the fall, and they’ll be on the east coast in the late fall, which is when their new single will be ready to go.
What’s striking about the band is how full their sound is for a three piece. When they were in New York for their first time, I caught them at one of their two sold out headlining shows. Even live, the band sounds like there’s an invisible fourth member doing some controlled mayhem with a guitar and a rack of pedals. There was an added edge to the dreamy pop they played that night. It may have had something to do with seeing the band so happy to be there, surprised that the show sold out, and embarrassed that they had detuned their instruments so much during the feedback swirl of the last song (“Whirring”) that they could not play an encore.
And yet everyone was delighted, encore or not, because we knew there’d be, eventually, more to come. There’s a lot of joy in waiting.