Album Review: AAARTH by The Joy Formidable
On The Joy Formidable’s magnificent new record, AAARTH, the band searches for a way to reconcile the many opposing elements of today’s fractured world. Written during a time of unimaginable shifts in the social climate, the band looks to find a peaceful overlap where the personal and political can share common ground. Musically, the band unleashes an industrial whirlwind of effects-laden guitars and synths to contrast with the barren desert landscapes of the American Southwest which inspired the music. This collision unsettles the listener, at times violently shaking us by the shoulders, and begs us to wake-up.
The financial burden of surviving as an independent band in an era of streaming can be taxing. The band’s last album, Hitch, occasionally sounded uncertain of its footing in that regard with songs that veered between radio readiness and the band’s determination to be more than just an alt-rock group with soaring choruses and codas that register on the Richter scale. No such uncertainty exists on AAARTH. The psychedelic swirl of “Cicada (Land on Your Back)” incorporates middle eastern textures that recall the most adventurous work of Robert Plant while “Y Bluen Eira” finds Ritzy Bryan layering vocals and guitar riffs on top of each other until it all races down the side of a mountain in an avalanche of cacophony. In other words, hang on tight for a wild ride.
More than anything, AAARTH feels like a celebration of life. No matter how wide the chasm has grown between two people, The Joy Formidable’s music suggests that kindness and empathy can erase that distance in the blink of an eye. When the album arrived on Friday, the band was grieving the loss of drummer Matt Thomas’ brother, Dan, to cancer (check out the family’s beautiful tribute to him here). It underlined the importance of not drifting too far from those that matter in life and how precious our time together on the earth is.
A proper album review should most certainly include more about the band’s sonic dexterity on AAARTH and the catharsis it provides if you listen to it all in one sitting. There is little doubt that this is the band’s most complete album and the most complex. However, having watched it come together on social media, and even peeked into the filming of a video, it has been impossible not to have the album become entwined with the journey of Dan Thomas. With over 150,000 subscribers on YouTube, his honesty and strength has become a source of inspiration for many. His September proposal and wedding to his girlfriend came with a personal message from Foo Fighter Dave Grohl who The Joy Formidable were on the road with at the time.
In times of uncertainty and sadness, music can sometimes be the only thing that keeps us from drowning. With AAARTH, The Joy Formidable have given us a work full of color and hope to keep us safe in the roughest waters. The band continues to travel the path less travelled and the music they are finding along the way might save us all.