The Joy Formidable
1811 14th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20009
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The Joy Formidable
The Joy Formidable have never been one to shy away from a challenge. Proving that time and again by holding their own as support for legendary artists and acts from Sir Paul McCartney to The Foo Fighters and The Black Keys. Critically adored, this Welsh trio is comprised of Ritzy Bryan (lead vocals, guitars), Rhydian Dafydd (bass, backing vocals) and Matt Thomas (drums, percussion). Formed in North Wales 10 years ago, each album they've released has been a reflection of their fearless creative discovery and self evolution. And on their latest release, AARTH, they've drawn inspiration from a worldwide climate of political and social uncertainty to make a statement unlike its predecessors. The Joy Formidable has always refused to be fenced in or fit in. That restless and boundless artistic journey continues and finds a band at its apex with no sign of getting comfortable.
Though technically the band's third full-length, Out of the Garden is Tancred's first truly cohesive record: a mission statement that underscores the "power" in power-pop and is punctuated by lyrics as razor-sharp as the hooks.
Written over a two-year period during a break from touring, the album's emphasis on re-defining feminine expectations was shaped by primary songwriter Jess Abbott's experiences living in Minneapolis and working at a liquor store in a rough part of town.
"I learned how to speak up when I needed to and how to truly be myself without reservation," Abbott recalls. "I felt afraid walking home at night, and after a couple of months I just got sick of it and started getting into self-defense and self-empowerment as a means of coping. Finding my own strength changed everything."
After writing and tracking every song in her apartment, Abbott (also of beloved Minneapolis trio Now, Now) enlisted Kevin Medina and Terrence Vitali to add drums and bass to her demos. The band then traveled to LA to record with OFF! bassist Steven McDonald and That Dog vocalist/guitarist Anna Waronker.
Both producers proved to be the perfect collaborators, with each elevating the final takes via their specific areas of expertise — Waronker helped Abbott achieve the raw vocal attitude exhibited on songs like the seething "Hang Me," while McDonald orchestrated the tailor-made guitar tones and trashy drum sounds highlighted on standouts like "Joey."
As a result, Out of the Garden showcases Tancred shedding its former skin in favor of a bolder and infinitely more confident sound.
Opener "Bed Case" bolts off the starting block with a guitar salvo straight from the '90s before "The Glow" ups the amperage with crunching riffs and pummeling distortion. Soon after, smooth as silk "Sell My Head" serves up a chorus so intrinsically catchy you'll already be singing along the second time around.
As Abbott reveals, "I wanted these songs to sound sickly sweet, with a looming, gory shadow behind them. Sugary, but when listening closely, unsettling."
This juxtaposition is presented flawlessly during the chorus of "Pens" when Abbott sings "I'm insanely healthy in my head / It's crazy how stable I am" amidst a background refrain of "oohs" and "aahs." While your head reflexively bobs along to the melody, your brain is compelled to decode the ominous double meanings embedded in her cleverly chosen adjectives.
Her fearlessness to discuss these and other personal topics is referenced in the album's title, an allusion to exiting Eden and leaving behind all the restrictive cultural norms ingrained in the Biblical "paradise": tradition, purity, holiness, binary gender, heterosexuality, and the idea that anything is forbidden (especially for women).
Says Abbott, "Out of the Garden represents doing what you want, what you need, without letting anything or anyone stop you — and smiling while you do it."