‘Wolf’s Law’ channels sounds of the ’90s

Jordan Beck

If MTV still played music videos on a regular basis, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine The Joy Formidable becoming a fixture on the channel.

With their bold, guitar-heavy sound, they wouldn’t have been out of place among the likes of Garbage and PJ Harvey.

But as their sophomore album “Wolf’s Law” proves, The Joy Formidable isn’t in the business of lazily repackaging ’90s nostalgia, or as lead singer Ritzy Bryan puts it in “Little Blimp,” trying to “remind yourself of yourself.”

Instead, this is an album that synthesizes the best elements of the past and present into a single dose of pure adrenaline.

Hailing from Wales, The Joy Formidable fall neatly into the genre of alternative rock. But make no mistake, they have their roots in a time when “alternative rock” meant something more than “we don’t really know what else to call this group.”

This is a band with a deep, abiding love of heavily-distorted guitar riffs, violent, powerful drumming, intricate bass lines and above all else, soaring, lighters-in-the-air melodies. It’s a familiar combination, to be sure, but the true appeal of “Wolf’s Law” is in how the Joy Formidable make all these elements feel fresh again through sheer force of will. For lack of a better word, the album sounds massive in a way many newer alt-rock records don’t.

“Wolf’s Law” doesn’t waste any time leading up to that massive sound, either. The album’s opening track, “This Ladder Is Ours,” kicks off with forty-five seconds of foreboding strings before exploding into the song proper.

Once it gets going, it’s essentially Joy Formidable 101 ­— an exhilarating introduction to the sonic elements that make up the band and how they fit together.

“Ladder” is followed by “Cholla,” a danceable track powered by its demented earworm of a guitar hook. “Tendons” is a love song of sorts, “Little Blimp” is another rocker, notable for its surprisingly funky bass line and “Bats” is an aggressive tune that sounds more metal than anything else on the album. These tracks are varied, but they have one thing in common ­— they’re all incredibly catchy.

After the initial assault of the first five tracks, it would be understandable if The Joy Formidable took things down a notch for the rest of “Wolf’s Law.”

Naturally, they did the exact opposite: almost the entire album, save for acoustic ballad “Silent Treatment,” is as high-energy as the beginning.

Fortunately, the band’s enthusiasm never becomes overwhelming or exhausting. Instead, stylistic touches like the incorporation of a prominent harp riff on “Maw Maw Song” and the near-ragtime piano intro featured on “The Leopard and the Lung” mix things up enough to keep the rest of the album interesting.

There’s even a hidden song ­— a ballad hidden after a minute of silence in “The Turnaround.”

“Wolf’s Law” is a rare beast, a bombastic record with a deep understanding of the value of subtlety, an unabashedly ’90s LP that still sounds like a product of its time, and a perfect summer album released in the dead of January.

All you need to know is this —The Joy Formidable is as thrilling as major-label alternative rock is likely to get in 2013. Just press play, fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.