It seems like a very, very long time ago indeed that the then-mysterious Manchester band WU LYF lit up the blogosphere (as quaint a prospect in 2019 as a sticker on a record that reads “HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC’) with their dramatic sloganeering and obscure visuals.
The year was 2010, a time when a name that stood for World Unite! Lucifer Youth Foundation and a single press shot, that of some kids with bandanas on their faces, was enough to convince music fans that they were a wildly fascinating prospect. WU LYF built hype by saying almost nothing, letting the music – woozy atmospherics, expansive synths, barked vocals – do the talking. When they finally did talk, however, they were revealed to be four normal blokes and the jig was up (a phenomenon also known as the ‘Jungle Paradox’). The band split after one album, with frontman Ellory Roberts releasing a statement that read: “WU LYF is dead to me.”
In 2016 he returned with Lost Under Heaven, a duo formed with partner Ebony Hoorn. The woozy atmospherics of WU LYF were gone, replaced by crushing reverb and epic-sounding electronic beats. Their debut album ‘Spiritual Songs For Lovers To Sing’ was critically acclaimed but largely overlooked. Well, now they’ve returned with a 10-track follow-up, ‘Love Hates What You Become’. Like it’s predecessor, the record’s swollen with its own sense of importance. Dramatic percussion rises through the steely industrial sounds of opener ‘Come’ as though it’s the soundtrack to Hoorn and Roberts combating the world’s ills.
Because, lyrically, Lost Under Heaven attempt to address the sense of doom that has gripped the UK and US in recent years. That’s a fairly hefty ambition, and one that’s understandably beyond the duo. From the piano-led ‘Post Millennial Tension’: “Tell me everything is going to be all right / The first crash should have been a warning”; Roberts’ sometimes bizarrely strained rasp means the sentiment sounds so overcooked that it’s difficult to take the track seriously, sadly, and by the time he and Hoorn chant “my generation’s burning and still we sing our love songs” over sweeping strings, your eyes may roll back to 2010.
There’s no doubting the duo’s conviction, and their sincerity is commendable, but it’s hard to view such vagaries as much more than grandstanding. The sound is so apocalyptic – layers of buzzing guitar juxtaposed with minimalist acoustic ditties, Roberts’ impassioned howl almost always at the forefront – that the record frequently tips into self-parody. In fact, the best track here, ‘For The Wild’, strips back the bluster to reveal a much more straight up rock’n’roll belter that connects even as Lost Under Heaven satirise the “white boy strumming on his guitar… nothing relevant in his heart”. Largely, though, they pile on histrionics.
WU LYF courted hype because, at first, they seemed to embody an entire worldview – that of the disenfranchised outsider. With their crashing guitar riffs and vague, faux-poetic proclamations, Lost Under Heaven sound more like Imagine Dragons with a Goldsmiths degree.