Album Review: Wu Lyf – ‘Go Tell Fire To The Mountain’

Honest, heartfelt, sky-kissing indie

In an interview granted last month for the Australian press, WU LYF mainman Ellery Roberts found time to round on his tormentors in the world of the media. “The British music press,” he complained, “uses the most ridiculous, hyperbolic language at every opportunity.”

This is probably the greatest statement ever made by a man or woman and is up there with the Beatitudes, the Communist Manifesto and the Declaration Of Independence. And WU LYF? They’re basically the noise that God hears when he’s jamming with Bach on the Bontempi. Looks like you failed to keep the hype monster at bay, Ellery, if that’s what you were intending. Or if that’s what you wanted us to think you thought you wanted to do. And so on.

It’s difficult to know what to make of WU LYF’s ‘revolutionary’ protestations concerning their lack of interest in the music biz machine. A casual glance suggests they’re pure anti-hype next-hype. But then you listen to the music, and there’s nothing there that speaks of self-aggrandisement, cynicism or trickery. If all you had to go on was their press shot, you’d assume WU LYF were a lateral-dubstep boyband scouted by Jonathan Shalit at an anti-Nick Clegg protest. Yet this fails to square with the fact that their music is richly ego-free – a cosmic soup of intertwined keyboards and guitars that, far from being an on-trend NBT, mines a conservative, well-trafficked trad-indie hinterland somewhere between early Arcade Fire, mid-period Modest Mouse and late-period British Sea Power. It makes you so cynical that you start to believe they really don’t care at all.

The swagger is really what drives that point home. Casual, not-bothered insouciance drips from ‘Go Tell Fire To The Mountain’. Doing chest-bursting is a hard act to pull off and, if the likes of the neon wilderness of ‘Heavy Pop’ or the woe-drenched barfly regret of ‘Concrete Gold’ didn’t sound so effortless, we’d be able to drive our daggers right into them. As it is, the whole record has a brass-balled sense of its own destiny that brazens straight through, even when they’re coasting stoned through less inspired jams like ‘Spitting Blood’. Even Roberts singing like… well, any number of the things that people have accused him of sounding like (“a wet dachshund gasping its last by the fireplace”, “Tom Waits drowning in Lemsip” etc) is done with a lack of self-consciousness that lesser bands would lack the gumption to pull off.

What you hear in the music is honesty: a band who packed themselves off to a disused church for three weeks because studios were “too sterile”, didn’t bother with a producer because, well, they were too ‘producer’, and just got on with lasering in on the joy they found in sound. Not all of it turns out stellar. But when they connect – the indie whale song of ‘LYF’, the martial balladry of ‘Such A Sad Puppy Dog’ – they hit big. On ‘Dirt’, they barrel in sounding like the world is going to end, then ramp up from there. On ‘14 Crowns For Me And Your Friends’, Roberts crowns their aching early-Verve cosmic ballad by singing like he’s actually sobbing. Naturally, no-one will ever work out what he’s sobbing about – as part of their commitment-to-thwart, everything Roberts sings is broadly unintelligible. Try sitting down to transcribe it some time.

You end up with a pad covered in notes like “Oh they had a car (???)” or “No matter what they sell dilute is not your rail (!!?!)”. Mostly, that only adds to the effect. They’re spiritualists at heart – too many witty couplets would transfer traffic to the cerebrum, when they’re meant to be pushing everything they do into squeezing the cerebellum. So, after all that sexy mystery, WU LYF have neither been crushed by hype nor lost to indifference. Now let’s really piss them off by making their album wildly popular.

Gavin Haynes

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