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Climbing a Different Ladder – A Review of The Joy Formidable’s “This Ladder is Ours,” By Peter Dysart

I can’t recall the last time a song had me at a single listen. No, that’s not true. I do recall and it just so happens it was from same band. So what is it, exactly, that’s going on here? “This Ladder Is Ours” is the third new release from TJF and the second song from their upcoming Wolf’s Law album. It opens with a lush string orchestration, straining with dissonance and a slight atonality as it builds to a quick tension that is resolved as the band punches in with big guitars and drums.

The song is deceptively and brilliantly simple, built on a single repeating phrase that steadily climbs higher as it’s buoyed by a heart-thumping guitar, bass and drum beats. All around the sound is orchestrated into a determined driving state. And therein lies the trick. Nestled inside this swirling structure are crystal clear vocals and lyrics that intentionally pull you into a slower frame of mind.

Ritzy intones, “Let’s take this walk it’s long overdue,” lulling us into a different tempo whilst her guitar staccato fuzz chords relentlessly punch away underneath her breathy voice, “And let this load roll over you finally.” As the verse continues, “Let’s sit and talk and slow things down,” all around the sonic storm rages on. Louis Armstrong was famous for employing this device — slowing down his own trumpet line in the middle of an up-tempo passage, giving the effect of slowing time down around him. This time it’s Ritz’s vocals creating this amazing effect.

It’s exactly when the chorus kicks in that we find ourselves jettisoned back into that storm with full dynamic force. Matt never loses a heartbeat — I mean never. And Rhydian’s boundless energy and passion pushes us deeper into the vortex. But still, Ritzy holds court like Prospero, the wondrous magician. Watching the video, you realise their director, Greg Jardin, understood this all too well. Note the use of slow motion all the time a dust storm pushes through each frame. Ritz is at the eye of the storm. But this is only half of the story — the other half being the emotive quality. Reaching the bridge, the tempo is slowed again to deliver a message about “walking through the sunshine” and I’ll be damned if there’s not something making me feel, well, happy.

It’s all in a day’s work, really. Rhydian says, “…anything that makes a better looking shot.”

Maybe it’s just not with current music trends, but rock music isn’t supposed to make us feel good, at least not like this. In fact, feeling good about one’s self hasn’t been the trend since before I was old enough to listen to it. No, rock music at present is supposed to be dark, moody, brooding, edgy, desperate and angry.

Now certainly without a doubt, The Joy Formidable have had their share of darkness and brooding, and emotionally gutted moments, but there’s always a shaft of light, of hope, near the end of so many of their songs, and with it a sense of redemption. Well almost always. Cradle is perhaps one of the most pleasantly vicious and retributive songs I’ve heard in years, but then “Greatest Light” has heaping doses of happiness. But this song leaps well beyond that sentiment.

The chorus echoes with: “This is where everybody turns out right in the end, and you play a part.” So, what is it that TJF is up to?

It’s simple. Drop your guard, forget your supposed cool, and just let this song wash over you. Go for that walk — take a climb to some place different. If you’re missing the positive mental or spiritual appeal of this song, please just listen again, because it was you I saw at their last gig with that fat grin spread across your visage, hands held high with fingers extended. When this song reached the chorus, you were genuinely fucking happy and you knew it.

The metaphor of the ladder is a simple one, but in reality you still have to climb up to find yourself again. I, for one, haven’t been this happy about rock music in years. If there’s more where this comes from, then I’m queuing up now. No, that’s not true. For the past three years I’ve been in the permanent queue and I have no intention of ever leaving it.

Note: The background of this video might not be obvious to some, but it was filmed near the sight of an infamous Star Trek episode. All you Trekkies might notice the Vasquez Rocks in the background.

Peter Dysart

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