16 June 2011
Albums | Reviews

Wu Lyf – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain

album cover

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After the months, years, decades of building hype, the tweets by Jay-Z, the articles exposing them as new rock messiahs, the articles exposing them as PR-built frauds, we are greeted by Wu Lyf’s End Product: an album. And crumbs! It seems that this first album from a reportedly groundbreaking band turns out not to be quite as scorched-earth futurist as some people first anticipated. Who’da thunkit?

Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is a grandiose sounding, grand-gesture sort of album with an Arcade Fire recorded-in-a-church vibe which stems from the fact it actually was recorded in an abandoned church in Manchester, produced by the four local lads that make up the group. It’s chock full of atmospheric organ and zip-a-de-doo-da guitar lines of the type practiced by a veritable human chain of indie-rock guitarists since Modest Mouse held a lock-in at Club Indie in the mid-noughties.

All of which sounds moderately interesting, but it’s the whiff of careful stage-management in the build-up to the record that’s been the focus of enquiry from hacks playing detective so far. The press blackout. Those Liars/TNPS-like, tribal drum-filled virals. Was it all the product of an indie boyband plot by their manager, ‘coincidentally’ the head of a PR firm?

In the end, though, to try and see through the myth of Wu Lyf is to miss the point. There is nothing to expose; this rock game has long been about artifice, the creation of Wizard of Oz illusions, smoke and mirrors and deferred gratification: the whole thing’s been run by PRs from the start. Authenticity regarding the pulpy matter we refer to as ‘songs’ is a different thing entirely, and of this you can’t accuse the Lyfers of dirty tricks, as these are as pure-intentioned a group of tracks as you’ll hear this year.

The album benefits massively from being recorded in holy surrounds. Acoustically the cavernous reverb adds a sense of intrigue, of spark. It’s expansive, yet characterised by a kind of smokey unsturdiness. Words seem to puff out of Ellery Roberts with all the clarity of a Bell’s Palsy-suffering Caleb Followill, yet the way he sings his lyrics seems a deliberately obscurant approach. He doesn’t seem to want to hand out the songs’ narratives to be picked over too easily. It’s a good tactic. The message of a lyric like “There’s children in the street, watching the concrete turn to gold/ Man in the wild / you were so young but this cities made you old,” from ‘Summas Bliss’ is digested better if you have to go through the process of visiting their website to read it written down. Youthful disgust against the staid business class that holds the future in an iron grip, after all, is a filthy job — but someone has to do it, and Wu Lyf have hit upon an aesthetic (the protest montage in the video for ‘Dirt’, Roberts’s John Heartfield/Linder-influenced collages) that works.

It’s epic music for kids who want something to articulate the confusion of being young and screwed in more than one sense of the word. And to that end, there’s probably not much better around than tracks like ‘Heavy Pop’ to soundtrack the summer’s endless dawn walk home. Strangely, there’s something of The Jam in their early period here, in spirit if not in sound.  A young, fan-focused group in awe of the music of black America (before making the leap to their slightly more cryptic name they were called the Tu Wang Clan), Wu Lyf might sound nothing like their heroes, but their output is still raw, impulsive and thrillingly unsure of itself. Tim Burrows

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