The Joy Formidable's 'Wolf's Law' review: Alternative rockers tighten sound

The Joy Formidable releases "Wolf's Law" Jan. 22,

The Joy Formidable releases "Wolf's Law" Jan. 22, 2013. (Credit: Handout)

Calling The Joy Formidable's new album, "Wolf's Law" (Atlantic), 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 "The Maw Maw Song," they sing along with the thunderous, heavy-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 a tastefully restrained retro-pop background for a song that 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.

THE JOY FORMIDABLE

"Wolf's Law"

GRADE B+

BOTTOM LINE Tightening their rock vision, loosening their inhibitions

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