The Joy Formidable, “Wolf’s Law” (Atlantic)
Calling the Joy Formidable’s new album scaled-back in any way sounds a little silly, considering all the layers of instrumentation, from orchestral swells to prog-rock guitar boogie and back again.
But it’s actually true, considering the Welsh band’s wildly ambitious (and uneven) American debut, “The Big Roar,” with its quest for massiveness seemingly bursting from every seam. Singer Ritzy Bryan and her pals have worked that out now.
Sure, “Wolf’s Law” still sounds big, but they have figured out a way to lighten things up again — much like they did on their EP “A Balloon Called Moaning,” which quickly took them from newcomers to sought-after major-label band.
The balance they build is clever. On “Maw Maw Song,” they sing along with the thunderous, metal guitar riffs to make it sound less serious. On the over-the-top rock of “Bats,” which musically sounds like Muse and Smashing Pumpkins trying to outplay each other, Bryan tries some smart redirection by whispering her vocals. For the epic “The Leopard and the Lung,” a plinking piano line unites the song’s varied influences, from bits of Lush and My Bloody Valentine to riffs reminiscent of Joy Division. Then, just when you think you have the Joy Formidable pegged, the band unleashes the lovely “The Turnaround,” where Bryan channels Dusty Springfield over tastefully restrained retro-pop. The song conjures drama in an entirely different way than the rest of “Wolf’s Law,” like the Joy Formidable figured out a new way to harness its considerable powers.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Trixie Whitley, “Fourth Corner” (101 Distribution)
It’s understandable to want more from Whitley than what she delivers on her solo disc. Not because of any shortcomings, but because of obvious strengths that go under-exploited.
A few years ago, Whitley, the now-25-year-old Belgium-born daughter of the late American singer-songwriter Chris Whitley, was picked by producer Daniel Lanois to be the lead vocalist for his project Black Dub. She has a preternatural spirit in her voice that sometimes rivals the soulfulness of Adele, the ferocity of Polly Jean Harvey and the mystique of Lana Del Rey.
But as it is, “Fourth Corner” is more of a musician’s album than a general music fan’s CD. The pace often feels about a half-step too slow for the mainstream as the instrumentation builds a languid, albeit sophisticated, atmosphere and Whitley saunters in and out of the vocal spotlight, shifting in bluesy, jazzy, contexts. She sounds tangibly moved in the soft, electric reverberations of “Pieces,” balled-up in the organic/electric smolder of “Irene” and plaintively expressive of her primal needs in the crackling fester of “Need Your Love.”
It’s exciting stuff, but too often a tease of what could have been — like an alluring melody in the title track that is plainly underplayed.
Chuck Campbell, Scripps Howard News Service