Whatever the magic formula is for capturing the sound and feel of live performance on a studio album, it’s hard to imagine that prolonged, methodical preparation is the way to find it. That was The Joy Formidable’s intent in taking a year to hang in its native Wales to write and record its third full-length, Hitch, and, sure enough, it doesn’t exactly recreate the aura of the band’s stage presence. That said, the attempt was clearly a freeing experience, and engaging in this exploratory process has fostered developments more important than merely simulating a show.
Hitch is The Joy Formidable’s biggest and brawniest collection of songs to date, trimming away many of the adornments of its first two records to get to the raw meat of the power trio’s craft. Cuts such as “The Last Thing On My Mind” ride slick, unrelenting blues-metal riffs, ever so lightly glazed with complementary keyboards, to increasingly soar into a stratosphere of noise and feedback. On other songs, like “Radio Of Lips,” a bright sonic gloss makes the guitars glimmer more than ever before. Sophomore effort Wolf’s Law progressed the band’s propulsive sonics into broader territory, and here they rocket further into the void.
Yet it isn’t the ambitiously driving alt-rock hooks that best illustrate the band’s elevated confidence—it’s the slinky, shadowy depths these songs sink into, the downcast haze that envelops significant swaths of them. Working in a variety of moods and styles, The Joy Formidable proves with Hitch that it doesn’t need an overkill of energy to excite.