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Wu Lyf
Go Tell Fire To The Mountain John Calvert , June 27th, 2011 13:35

There's no doubt that 'blind faith' is the metier of the emphatically idealistic Wu Lyf. If as a fan you're to join them in remaining wonderfully oblivious, then it's imperative to pooh-pooh certain unassailable facts. The flawed Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is repetitious and reactionary, obvious and facile. “Shite garage indie” said one, “I hate Wy Clef Jean, always have” said another. But it's not the whole truth. Reason tells you that it's keek, total bunkum. Your heart, however, has other plans. If you're a sucker for a hopeless dreamer there’s a handsome symmetry to the sound of viral marketing's favourite sons.

It seems unbefitting to rationalise such a hermetically fable-like album by debating on the quotidian details of its author's origin story. It's also really tedious. Would you rather watch the film or the making-of? But for our two bobs worth, that calculating anti-campaign of lore involved the musicians posting their best tracks on YouTube, one after the other in rapid succession, as far back as February 2010, is hardly CIA protocol. Don't you just hate being lied to?! Is it not logical to attribute their rise to prominence to the manner in which us impressionable, automaton Whovillians received 'Spitting Blood', 'LYF' etc, as much as the consequence of whatever black magic crimes the PR committed against an unwitting populace. Is it not also possible that Wu Lyf's private Swiss bank-branding management got the idea for the urban myth approach after hearing Wu Lyf's far-far-away, breathlessly self-mythologising music, and proceeded accordingly. Just a thought. I mean, who are the artists here? At any rate we've got them now, along with all the ephemeral joys the Mancs debut affords for a mere millisecond in pop years; because such is youth. GTFTTM will not stand the test of time.

You want to debunk a few myths, then how does this find you? They sound absolutely nothing like Modest Mouse, or Arcade Fire, or Sigur Ros (What the...?). If anything they are closer in spirit to The Walkmen, what with the heavy weight of regret and Ellery Roberts' channeling of a dying Hamilton Leithauser for vocal duties. They also share a common ancestry with the more cadaverous purveyors of lo-fi punk like Crystal Stilts, The Crocodiles, and Girls Names. Then at points its as if, through the prism of Yeasayer's 'I Remember', they are repurposing The Bunnymen's 'Nothing Lasts Forever' for a spiritually dispersed generation. It's beautifully fatalistic and if you're the kind who can relate to Curt Smith's lament of “the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I ever had”, well prepare to be thrilled. The most important question to ask, however, is not are Wu Lyf sincere, but rather are they original? The answer is that they are familiar but new.

For Wu Lyf the world is still big, just massive, infinite, yet conquerable; not yet shrunken, and complex, and futile. According to the band, closer 'Heavy Pop' was the first song they wrote, making Roberts' first cry - so desirous, so desperate - of “Like children they Plaaaaaaaay!” his opening address to the world. So full is it of a sense of approaching time, and a brilliance of purpose, and pin-sharp visions of the disappointments that await him in the 'Time To Pretend' mould, it's almost Robert's coming-of-age, all in the time it takes him to follow up with “I wanna feel at home, I wanna feel at home”.

Simultaneously timeless and fleeting, every song is both a sad valediction and an invitation to be reckless before the sun goes down, the gang vocals giving form to a sense of gorgeous, everlasting fellowship. Overwhelmingly in the moment and of the moment, a heady atmosphere of self determination abounds, elevating sky-written, deep-field ballads hoarse with passion; splashy cymbals bursting over Evans Kati's lissome and bloody-tipped guitar with a sumptuous poignancy. Listening to the mirage-like 'Summa Bliss' it's inspiring that the pall of the Manchester skyline can be so gracefully, defiantly resisted. A tail of murder and the sins of the father, 'Such A Sad Puppy Dog' is particularly rousing, displaying all the stolid splendour of a lone piper at moor's end, Kati's edible, string-candy guitar stretching back miles from the martial snare. Another clarion call, 'Spitting Blood' is steeped in adventure and discovery, but rent with single coil nostalgia. There's a sense that Go Tell happens over the course of one day, on the one grand old stage, cracking the boards with a bruised stoicism; the show must go on. More than anything the album challenges the adage that youth is wasted on the young. Wu Lyf are only too aware of its fragility, their Lennie-esque efforts to intern the here-and-now greatly accounting for their penchant for overkill.

Alas, their shortcomings are many. It's overlong for one, the songs are crying out for some irregular instrumentation (imagine Deserter's Songs without the horns or the bowed saw) and the organ is overused, as are their favourite notes and chords, presented recurrently in the same tri-syllabic metre, which extends to the lyrics. Then there's Ellery's mono-functional vocals which, though fit for purpose, have all the emotional range of a bullish sowing machine. His voice is so central to their sound that Roberts will be forced to jettison the style if they plan to evolve. Also, while less monotonous a presence than initial impressions suggest, the back line is cloddish and unimaginative (though not to Glasvegas proportions), and might have enhanced the flightier hi-life inspired tracks like 'We Bros'. By '14 Crowns...' they are churning terrifically and you can spot every change-up coming a mile off, while their habit of dreaming up big intros without following through, as on 'Dirt', gradually becomes circumspect. 'Cave Song' is an ill-defined and plain track which just doesn't register, even after repeated listens, while 'Concrete Gold' is a tonally jarring misstep into Coldplay territory. The most disconcerting aspect of the entire venture is their tear gas-and-brimstone / pan-global rebel schtick, which blurs the line between a marketing look and an album theme. For all the earnest rhetoric (the slick video for 'Dirt' using footage of the recent student protests is particularly crass, and yes a patronising bit of PR hoopla) they stand for zip, nada, except the freedom to redefine their expectations of life in a Northern town. Old fashioned escapism, no more, no less.

As noted GTFTTM is repetitive, but if you're prepared to be charitable you might say it's coherent, cogent and the product of a diehard, unwavering conviction. It certainly drives the message home and, well, the chronically zealous do tend to go on a bit. Most of all, in a landscape inundated with bland, pedestrian pomp (Muse, said Glasvegas, Esben And The Witch) so evocative is their sound that the idea of Wu Lyf survives during those periods when they are at their least inspired.

A strained, overstated effort at denouncing the trivial, Wu Lyf have put their all into GTFTTM, to their folly, but more often than not the gesture transcends their failings. It's like RP McMurphy pulling on that big old water fountain, and his snarl in defeat of: "But I tried, didn't I goddamnit...at least I did that”. That they did. If you're feeling deceived, then don't; Wu Lyf are much more McMurphy than they are the Nurse Ratchet figures here. And much like McMurphy they just can't seem to find it in themselves to make it out that open window.

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