(LYF Recordings, 2011)
The kids make me sick. I’m significantly beyond the age range where “starting shit” for the sake of it holds any appeal. WU LYF, an acronym for, duh, World Unite: Lucifer Youth Foundation (ugh – and really the acronym’s no better, as it immediately assumes guest spots from Killah Priest and U-God), is a band ready to rally these kids. And dumb name aside, maybe they’re right to do so. The Mancunian self-styled “heavy pop” band serves as a rallying point for the young, disaffected, and ignored underclass British population, presumably the same minority that rioted recently throughout the cities of Great Britain. I’m not here to pontificate on the social ramifications of those actions – of who is right and who is wrong. It’s easy to peg WU LYF as a glorified street mob, or at least an artistic representation of one. But that’s oversimplifying and likely wrong – the conviction with which the band delves into their art legitimizes their existence beyond just raised middle fingers to the status quo. This is reminiscent of how Godspeed You! Black Emperor internalizes their anger, which grows and festers to paradoxically bloom into beautiful, cathartic eruptions of grand expression. With that in mind, I’ll get out of my own way, and stand back and allow WU LYF to bellow into the expanse.
(That’s enough about “the kids,” too, whether you or I get it or not. Moving on.)
That’s the immediate characteristic to grasp onto: the vocal delivery. Part pained howl, part furious group-shout, there’s clearly something deeply rooted in singer Ellery Roberts that he can only express himself, to the delight of an old catharsis junkie like me, through full commitment. It sounds like every syllable he utters he’s straining to belt louder, stronger, more emotively. His voice is a weathered rasp, like Tom Waits or Don van Vliet, but in conjunction with his bandmates he comes across like an angrier, British Samuel T. Herring, and you all know how I feel about Future Islands. So Roberts is OK in my book. On opener “LYF,” he’s already reinventing the acronym, so to speak, in that he shouts “You know I love you forever” on repeat to end the song, and it has no “emo” pretensions to it – it’s the most un-cringe-worthy that sentiment has ever sounded.
And we’re lucky to even make out those words. What also makes Roberts’ delivery so compelling is that his lyrics are so impossible to make out – the result is almost pre-human in vocalization. His grunts, warbles, shouts, and vowels and consonants slip and slide down his throat until they’re jumbled upon release. In fact, it’s almost a repeat of 4 million years ago as if Australopithecus anamensis has joined his fellow bipeds on the ground by Kenya’s Lake Turkana at the dawn of their bipedality, whereupon noticing feet newly adapted to savanna existence, the whole population loudly carries on into the night…
Sorry, not sure where I went there.
The vocals – visceral, guttural, true, and defiantly sad, especially in light of the other musicians’ contributions. Somehow the glittering guitars and cavernous drums were dialed perfectly to the “Explosions in the Sky” setting (albeit at a quicker pace), and the fact that Go Tell Fire was recorded in an old church lends even more gravitas and space to it. Whether the band is in full-on dirge mode, such as on the ridiculous and appropriate “Such a Sad Puppy Dog,” or on higher-BPM fare like “Summas Bliss” or “Spitting Blood,” they expertly balance a line between post rock and post punk/hardcore that settles into a wonderfully unique territory that is both, and neither. Gorgeous, haunting, and brutal, Go Tell Fire plays almost like a suicidal battle cry, the last-ditch effort of one who loved so much and lost so greatly. I’m not even listening to it right now – and it grips my heart with sympathy just thinking about it. I also can’t not mention album centerpiece “We Bros” – perhaps the definitive statement of purpose (despite the lyrical ambiguity), beginning slow and then building to a heady climax of the title shouted over and over. I’d venture to say it’s a singalong anthem – if it weren’t for the fact that you and your “bros” were probably pummeled and thrown, spitting out teeth, down a flight of stairs before regaining consciousness and reasserting your kinship over ginger hugs and therapeutic pints – it’s that gutty.
It would be hard not to recount the band’s aversion to press – as in a complete one, until more recently upon the release of the album. There were no names – and the band’s website is still more of a Godspeed-esque manifesto in content and a collage in form than anything else. (But look! Lyrics! I’m loathe to dig too deep…) I also found this chestnut on their Wikipedia entry that made me chuckle: “This Wikipedia page on the band has been deleted several times, which itself has been covered by the press.” Ha! Advance information indeed – the punk spirit lives. At any rate, despite what sort of trouble the band or their followers may or may not get into in their spare time – and it’s folly to speculate … er, even though I kind of editorially did (hmpf) – I’ll call it: Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is one of (if not the) best releases of 2011. We’ll see how it fares in my year-end wrap.
RIYL: Future Islands, Frog Eyes, Handsome Furs