Chicks who dig prog, and ladders.
The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law (Atlantic)
A heavy regimen of incessant touring, paired with the release of two precursor EPs (which doubled as studio exercises), allowed this Welsh trio to spend almost three years grooming and reshaping their 2011 debut,The Big Roar, a distinct mix of prog, alternative, shoegaze and pop. A rather ambitious first impression, it was front woman Ritzy Bryan’s promising riffs and crafty song arrangements which stitched many of the album’s competing textures together. This follow up is just as bombastic as its predecessor, but relies less on riffs and hooks and more on an ethereal sense of discovery. Too bad they chose to delve deep and discover their more progressive tendencies, as the band ultimately end up weakening their sound by segregating the various genres they once relished in unifying. The lone acoustic number, fittingly titled “Silent Treatment,” breaks the album in half from its opening round of herky-jerky chorus ringers from a latter half of meandering behemoths in excess of six minutes. Naming their album after a scientific law which states bones grow gradually stronger under repeated stress, Wolf’s Law comes off as diluted and diminished. Too much of one thing and not enough of anything else, it sounds less like strengthening and more like growing pains. GRADE: B-
Key Tracks: ”This Ladder Is Ours” / “Silent Treatment” / “Forest Serenade”
Hilly Eye – Reasons to Live (Don Giovanni)
In which one time Titus Andronicus member Amy Hill calls on drummer Catherine Tung to add militaristic fills, rhythmic muscle and color to what are otherwise weightlessly afloat anthems, the results range from mildly tepid to interestingly bland. While Hill is prone to yowling and howling just as her Riot Grrl forebears once did, she also plays it cool and blends her unremarkable singing voice amid the album’s rugged production and her rumble-tumble songwriting. Taking the soft-loud dynamic mastered by Kurt Cobain to extremes, she leaves little space left for any sort of middle ground or sonic meshing – which is exactly how the two best songs (“Jersey City,” and “Jacob’s Ladder”) come together. It’s OK to have your punk cred and eat it too. In fact, she should do it more often – it’s the only way she’ll write real songs. GRADE: B-
Key Tracks: “Jacob’s Ladder” / “Jersey City”