Riffing on the Welsh word for "bear," AAARTH is the first Joy Formidable LP to be recorded and conceived in the trio's newly relocated home in the American Southwest. While the climate may have changed, the band's predilection for constructing seismic and soaring, arena-ready alt-rock with a punk-addled noise-pop center hasn't wavered a bit. In fact, AAARTH may be their most immediate and cacophonous effort to date, pairing palm-muted riffs and explosive percussion with dynamic electronic flourishes. The only other contemporary trio that can reach this level of bombast is Muse, but Joy Formidable deliver the same decibels without all of the political paranoia and pseudo-intellectual posturing. To be fair, AAARTH's emotional core is built on socio-political unrest, specifically the post-election divide that's thrown their adopted countrymen and women into a cold civil war. Despite all of the sonic apoplexy, the band seems far more concerned with the lack of empathy and compassion than they do the dodgy civics, and tracks like "The Wrong Side" and "The Better Me" parse through that cultural unrest with strident benevolence. The lumbering "Cicada (Land on Your Back)" strikes a similar tone, but its musical cues suggest a more shamanistic approach gleaned from walkabouts through Utah's blood-red canyons and petroglyph-riddled caves. Guitarist and lead vocalist Ritzy Bryan remains a -- no pun intended -- formidable frontwoman with the ability to slay both vocally and instrumentally, invoking the preternatural cool of the Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser on the shoegazey "You Can't Give Me" and unleashing a tsunami of feedback on the epic "All in All," the latter of which moonlights as a ballad, but eventually goes full supernova. That AAARTH feels cathartic comes as no surprise, as the trio have long been purveyors of both aural and emotional heft, but this time around they've managed to crystallize both aesthetics into something truly sublime, fulfilling the promise set forth on 2011's The Big Roar.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger