Saturday, June 25, 2011
WU LYF - Go Tell Fire to the Mountain
01 L Y F
02 Cave Song
03 Such a Sad Puppy Dog
04 Summas Bliss
05 We Bros
06 Spitting Blood
08 Concrete Gold
09 14 Crowns for Me & Your Friends
10 Heavy Pop
WU LYF are for the children. Thus far, World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation have taken equal inspiration from A Clockwork Orange and fellow Mancunians Happy Mondays to play out that adolescent fantasy of having every bird-flip rewarded by authority figures they're meant to offend. The British rags will help you fill in the rest, but here are a few talking points: getting a cold call from Michel Gondry only to ignore it; charging desperate A&R's 50 pounds for a demo; telling the UK press to fuck off, only to have them respond with statements like, "they're reinventing the wheel." Their web presence is so cryptic, they make Dead Air Space look like Lil B's Twitter feed. The band's incomprehensible frontman, Ellery Roberts, is an experiment in rock vocal abstraction, and yet sold-out crowds sing along to every proto-linguistic grunt. But the centerpiece of Go Tell Fire to the Mountain-- a stunning lockstep of drum rolls, tart guitar chords, and a maddening chant for raising beers and clenched fists-- makes it clear: This is life-affirming music, repulsed by hype and cynicism. The name of the song? "We Bros".
The first word of the title is the important thing: Go Tell Fire celebrates togetherness. Approach the record with no context whatsoever, and it's fairly trad indie rock for crescendo junkies that could be laid over just about anything-- a stirring football highlight, your morning commute-- for instant widescreen effect. Dissatisfied with the sound they were getting in traditional studios, WU LYF self-produced in an abandoned church, which could once again be sniffed at as another publicity stunt. But they needed every bit of open airspace to capture their sound in full, and the building itself acts as an active participant. Silvery, melodic guitar lines are given extra dimension with decay and release, and a pipe organ draws lengthy sustain. And man, what it does for the percussion: the term "crash cymbal" has rarely sounded so literal, and a critical mass of reverb pushes the kick drum's natural tone to its limit on "Dirt" and "14 Crowns For Me & Your Friends".
But underneath all that bouncing room echo, you hear a band trying to live up to its own hype, unglamorously woodshedding until every arrangement was tight as hell. It's danceable in the same way older Modest Mouse is-- a sweet spot that feels more limber than rock and too jittery to congeal into a groove like funk, but always in the service of some sort of physicality. Even the ballads rarely feel settled: The opening piano chords of "Concrete Gold" echo around a kick drum beat, before a call-and-response chorus that evokes the melodicism of D.C. hardcore.
So while musically it connects the divergent anthem-fashioning of Explosions in the Sky or Wolf Parade, Roberts' vocals evade just about any facile comparison. Attempts to classify it have ranged from Captain Beefheart to a variety of feral animals or malfunctioning household appliances, all making the same point, more or less: this is a trial by fire. He's screaming "I love you forever!" on the first track ("L Y F") while revealing an alternate translation for their band name, yet in the urgency of Roberts' voice, you can see the matted fur and gnarled teeth of an endearingly ugly stray that you're still hesitant to love back (see also: his performance on the aptly titled military funeral march "Such a Sad Puppy Dog").
And yet, similar to the way Jónsi applied the rhythms and phonetics of Hopelandic to convey an immutable, beatific divinity, Roberts lives within WU LYF's musical viscera as a vocal embodiment of animal instinct, projecting from the primitive part of the brain that can sense danger and react before it even acknowledges the source. You can occasionally make out his marching orders on "Cave Song" and "Dirt", but Roberts and WU LYF match up spasm for spasm to make their point clear: keep your head on a swivel, move. Do something. WU LYF bark out the title of "Spitting Blood" repeatedly over heraldic organ, and it's an evocative image leaving its completion up to the listener. On the chorus, Ellerby and crew yell "we are so happy! Happy to see...," the intelligibility fittingly cutting off right there. After all, what is the phrase Go Tell Fire to the Mountain besides an open-ended call to arms?
Closer "Heavy Pop" might be the only time WU LYF actively and clearly suggest what they're getting at (indeed, a dispatch on the band's mailing list describes the album as "10 tracks of true heavy pop"). But Go Tell Fire rarely scans as "pop music," and at times, it's content to give into pure texture and drift. Rather, this "heavy pop" translates to me as populism of real heft. More artistically rewarding records have been made this year, but when I think about WU LYF in the manner of Iceage or Odd Future as musicians that have made me genuinely excited about their potential impact on listeners, the same things that make them seem juvenile-- the artistic and personal volatility, the semblance of a roving gang more than a band, the invitation to indulge in your most disturbing impulses and yet feel morally superior to an ill-defined majority-- are the same things that feel totally galvanizing. And it's easy to imagine Go Tell Fire to the Mountain giving disaffected listeners the promise of an entry to something beyond themselves in a way that James Blake or Bon Iver can't. Maybe you've grown past that sort of thing, but what about a record of exhilarating expanse and passion that sounds like indie rock and yet feels way bigger? Well, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is that too...www.pitchfork.com