WU LYF - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain

Mary Karr’s Cherry is a memoir about becoming a teenager. As the book progresses and she gets older, she finds herself in that position that all teenagers find themselves in at one point or another: she’s responsible for her actions, but outside of them as well, the things she does are not her, but she’s doing them so they are. It’s a beautiful way of writing about uncontrollable change. Toward the end of the book, she’s attending a sort of bizarre spiritual retreat and is not comfortable with it. She writes:

“As an adult, it will stun you that most bizarre encounters with virtual strangers from this period could have ended by your simply leaving, walking away…”

Here, Karr completely decimates the concept of being trapped in the life you have. Illustrating that to change (though not always for the better) all you have to do is separate yourself.

The germs of this idea come during our teenage years, but they so rarely (this time probably for the better) manifest in any tangible way. The reason I bring all this up, is that last week as I was writing about No Age’s Weirdo Rippers, an album that seems to provide an antidote for feeling trapped (or, at least, a temporary escape), I started thinking about how, as a teenager everything is so huge. So world ending. We are all basically just balls of greasy hormones bouncing off all these walls we just figured out were even there. We’re trapped in our own stupid prisons, making idiotic mistakes that are probably closer to escape attempts than actual “bad” decisions. These are the years that we figure out we’re becoming defined people and we’re not ready to be them. We encounter shifty characters in parks, drug dealers, 13-year-olds that have somehow already been to rehab, car thieves and already lost geniuses. We follow complete strangers into weird situations because of boredom. We pick up mostly smoked cigarettes from ashtrays and smoke them, or we make fun of the people that do. It never occurs to us that we don’t want to know them, or that we absolutely want to know them, or that we are them. Being a kid is still too close.

In that sense Manchester’s WU LYF are the soundtrack to those years of small apocalyptic moments. Their one album (they broke up not long after its release, though frontman Ellery James Roberts has lately been carrying the torch with his solo music) Go Tell Fire To The Mountain sounds like the last thing to be recorded before the end of the world, it’s filled with elliptical references to friendship (“We Bros”) and plenty of references to fire. Riffs appear as slight variations of themselves, organs sound somber and heavy and the drums crack like thunder under Roberts’ vocals, which are ragged and often unintelligible, but somehow always joyful too.

Being a teenager means that your world is tiny. Everything is new, but you have to pretend it isn’t. A breakup is the end of the world until it’s not anymore. Every idea you have is brilliant, every piece of art you make is the best piece of art you’ve made yet. WU LYF tap into this by making a record that acts as a statement piece. The band rarely conducted interviews, seemed to never perform with shirts on and before they’d even released any music, they had a rabid following breathlessly anticipating every move they made.

Their greatest trick, in a sense, was making an album that wasn’t actually weird, wasn’t hard to listen to and dealt with direct emotional sentiment in a visceral way. At the time, it felt like everyone who cared was always trying to peer behind the curtain of WU LYF, but maybe there just wasn’t anything back there.

I don’t mean to say their music is empty. It’s not. “We Bros” tapped into a particular kind of masculine camaraderie so well that every time I listen to it, it makes me examine every friendship I have from a new angle. The one-two punch of “Dirt” followed by “Concrete Gold” is all orange hues and crashing cymbals. There are points in “Concrete Gold” where the music sounds thick enough to roll around in your mouth.

What I mean is that maybe, despite all the mystery and build up and subsequent flame out, Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is a pop album unafraid to be a pop album. Its motives are pure. Sometimes, when you’re a teenager, you’re nice just to be nice, or you’re a huge asshole just because it’s what you feel like being. It’s not a sustainable thing, and as you get older, life takes on so much more. Go Tell Fire To The Mountain is what it is, until the moment it becomes complicated enough to be something else.

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Comments (28)
  1. I have been listening to this album this week, as part of my summer music album playlists and the more I listen to it, the more I love it. The album is so perfectly concise, well-produced, and executed. It give you exactly what you want and no song disappoints.

  2. Ouch. That was painful to read.

  3. the biggest thing this band had going for them was their “trick” marketing and management. the music was nothing special and was made even less interesting by how much they loved themselves. shit art cloaked in mystique…more and more kids falling for the “non-promo” promo sham these days.

  4. Go Tell Fire was a decent album. Decent. No where as good as what they hype made it out to be. This band was interesting to a lot of people because of their manufactured mysteriousness and the let’s-get-PR-by-faking-like-we’re-against-PR game. It’s a marketing tactic of deliberate obfuscation and their appeal is surface over substance. WU LYF were managed by Warren Bramley, founder of the Four23 ad agency, whose clients have included Adidas, Reebok, and Virgin.

    MOST importantly, their music is not important. There’s not much memorable about their songs besides the fact that you can’t understand most of the lyrics and the dude’s voice is really gravelly. Not to say that unintelligible lyrics and gravelly voices are inherently bad – they’re not…some of my favorite artists fall in either category. But what else is there? They sound like a drunk Coldplay minus the sense of hooks and melodies (but with all the trite drivel Coldplay has to offer) with a young Tom Waits forced to sing.

    The band became more unlikable to me for their constant publicity stunt bullshit and pretension…if they had really original, important music to back it, I wouldn’t be typing. Shit, I’m pretty sure at this point that Wayne Coyne is a media whore sociopath but the Flaming Lips have made so much unique and special music that it really doesn’t bother me what type of people they are.

    Wanna be the next WU LYF?

    1. Come up with simple, boring pop arrangements for instruments that you’re not particularly excellent at and record in a church. *Make sure everyone knows you recorded in a church.

    2. Sing (bark) deliberately unintelligible, cliche lyrics about blood and crowns and fire and do it in a voice that is grating enough to border avant-garde, tolerable enough to resemble Tom Waits. A lot of gullible critics love it when you work really hard to sound like you don’t give a shit about sounding like anything.

    3. Get a marketing guru with connections as your manager and play a residency at the cafe that his company owns (Outlet is where they played, it’s run by Four23). Have him help you make a “cryptic” website, band image, press responses, etc.

    4. Let the sheep come running…ignore them at first so they think you’re too cool for human response, then do the TV spots, do the commercials, etc.

    5. Realize you’re a phony and break up the band.

    • Downvoted because you used the words “sheep” and “phony”.

      What is “important” music?

      • Pumpkins’ “Mayonaise” is important in my book. It may be my favorite song from Siamese and definitely a top 10 from that era.

    • snarfblat  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2013 -1

      oh fuck off, you too cool for everyone person. it’s a great album. it’s different. how often can you say that? go listen to avant guard (sic) something acceptable, because you’re too awesome for the world.

  5. we bros with this album

  6. I don’t see why people are/were so vehemently against this band. As far as their promotional tactic goes (anti-promo as promo), I don’t really see what separates it from, say, Daft Punk’s promo tactic (big money marketing disguised as back-to-basics marketing) or, perhaps more accurately, Savages’ promo tactic. Furthermore, WU LYF had an ideology behind them, which is something you don’t really see that much anymore. Naïve, pretentious, and hype-serving as their ideas supposedly were, they were still ideas.

    ANYWAY, outside of all the drama surrounding it, this is an ambitious, unique, and youthful album by an ambitious, youthful, and unique band. And that’s something I can get on board with any day.

    • “Naïve, pretentious, and hype-serving as their ideas supposedly were, they were still ideas.” – one of the most meaningless things I’ve heard this week.

  7. Was listening to this album again recently and it really is great, and I remember being ready to hate it before it came out as I was already sick of the hype that seemed based on everything but the music, and it was an extremely pleasant surprise when it turned out the music actually lived up to it. If the rest of Ellery James Roberts’ solo album is as good as “Kerou’s Lament” that should be great too.

  8. Backtrack: 6 months ago.

  9. I couldn’t stand this album when it came out and I didn’t care for it when I decided to revisit it a little while ago either. Does the fact that it will never have a follow up mean that this thing’ll inevitably turn into one of indie’s crown jewels? :/

  10. My favorite part of this album was the list in the liner notes of other cool shit. But Panda Bear did that first, and with a more interesting list.

    Definitely some good songs on this album, but it all kind of sounded the same by four tracks in or so. They should’ve made one great ep and called it a day.

  11. You know, I read stereogum all the time, but I never comment. I just don’t feel the need to. But reading through the editorial blurb and then everyone else’s comments, I felt called to act. (In the form of a jumbled opinion in my text editor, natch).

    When I first heard Wu Lyf that summer in 2011, I was 20 years old, and spending the first week in the first apartment I’d had to myself. I saw some chill album art for a song amusingly titled “heavy pop” on pitchfork, turned the lights off and played it to have something to go to bed to. I was floored from start to finish. The intro, where guitars build and fall in time to inhales and exhales, the gutteral, emotive yells that sounded like they were hurled from the inmost part of a person if for nothing else but to break the dreary silence. I knew exactly at that moment that it was the music I had been waiting to listen to for my entire life. Nothing else sounded like it. Metaphorically speaking, it’s timbre was the exact resonant frequency of my messy and short sighted early adult life. I have never again had that kind of reaction to new music.

    Wu Lyf is the anthem that you throw your fists in the air and say ‘fuck you’ to everyone and everything that you can’t control, to all the things that you can’t figure out, to all the things you’re ashamed of having done and said. With Wu Lyf, I shed all the bullshit that my mind is hopelessly shrouded in; I am returned to the most essential core of who I am, who I want to be, and all I can do is breathe fast deep lungfuls of sunlight and midnight. Wu Lyf (and especially ‘heavy pop’) awakens something primal in me, that part of me that grows strongest when I am weakest.

    ..So, uh, you know, there are some people out here that really dig Wu Lyf for reasons beyond their mysterious press appearance or enigmatic artwork or whatever. Just sayin’.

    • This guy gets it.

    • Thank you. I dunno man, I discovered WU LYF without being aware of any of their marketing, mystique, or hype, and I thought the album fucking ruled.

    • I had an extremely similar experience with this album, and it was awesome to read you articulate it so well. I heard the album the summer before I was off for college my first year, and I don’t think I could have had a more perfect soundtrack for outgrowing my hometown while simultaneously trying to cling to the things that actually mattered, like the tight group of friends I had that was soon to be scattered across the Southeast. “We Bros” felt like it was written specifically for me and a couple of my closest buddies, but at the same time it was the most universal and true song I had heard in so long.

      Also, it was ridiculous how much I related to the album on a personal level. For a while in high school, I was the kind of kid that was starting to see the bullshit of the world and getting all existential about shit or whatever. But when I started hanging out with one certain kid and we found this album, I realized I wasn’t alone in feeling that way, and all you can do is live life as best you can, ignoring and denying the things that bring you down, and not to let all the outside crap that shrouds the way for truth and real happiness effect you. It is the most refreshing, ultimately positive, and life affirming album I listen to regularly.

      But I could see how people may write them off as just another indie band playing guitars and churches. I sense that side of it when I listen to the album. But what makes it so rich and deeply satisfying to me is that I fully give myself to the album, and to the purpose and ideals that WU LYF represents, and, even if for just the 45 minute run time, it feels like this little band of kids could change the world just by shouting and spitting in the face of unjust world control and decrepit, outdated institutions, and so could I or anyone else.

    • Yeah, you fucking nailed it man.

  12. I love “Heavy Pop” as well. Have you seen this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXjyPpCrOdg

  13. What was so cool about Wu Lyf is how unconventional their approach was toward melody. Many bands try to add dimension to vocals but Roberts really made his voice an amplified instrument which allowed the songs to be even more deeply effective. There was a similar band a few years back (don’t even know if they’re even around anymore) called Wilderness which I think used the same approach. Truly powerful execution and a great rhythm section to support it all. Like a comment stated above, just turn the lights off embrace its unique sound and just let it wash over you.

  14. i don’t remember why i checked out WU LYF in the first place (likely it was that album art) but im sure glad i did. i had the pleasure of seeing them twice, both times at Washington DC’s Rock And Roll Hotel. the crowds were completely different both times. and the second time i went, i went with my roommate who had converted to a full on fangirl. we went over to the merch table and i ended up buying a poster that they had made up – of the album art and some lyrics from the title track. (he said they made only like 150, or something like that?) it was before the show and Ellery Roberts was standing behind the merch table eating chicken wings. (his speaking voice kind of sounds like his singing voice, which is totally weird.) the chicken grease and sauce was all over his hands. i was awkward about it and asked him to sign my poster. so after he dried his hands, he left a signature that is mostly indecipherable except for the word “Ellery” and, i think, a heart. its in a frame on my wall. it’s one of my most prized possessions, next to Go Tell Fire To The Mountain – because its an incredible fucking record. im so happy i can live the whole rest of my life with it.

  15. also, the fact that Hockley-Smith references Mary Karr is major. everyone should read her books. KU-DOSE.

  16. I didn’t like this particular record. I have nothing against this band, regarding marketing or whatever, not being from the United states and not being an internet freak, well sort of, have ”protected” me from the hype.

    My major complaint about their music is that they really overdo the whole ”emotional” factor in the songs. Don’t think it’s a awful record, but c’mon guys making ”emoltional” music or music that actually means something(whatever suits you) is a little bit more than just playing some pentatonics for almost all the songs.

    • that is pretty much what i would say. it’s just mediocre pop music with some overly dramatic and annoying vocals over it. too contrived, i guess. the lyrics struck me as pretty trite.

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