If announcing their existence anonymously was supposed to make listeners focus solely on the music, WU LYF failed. Dramatically. Instead of rejoicing over their jams, the world was interested, instead, in the myth; the marketing that delivered the band's debut single ("Heavy Pop" b/w "Concrete Gold") in a cryptic barrage of ad-hoc poetry, artful imagery, and join-our-cult entreaties.
The 'mystery' of WU LYF became its own self-generating meme: an eternal story told, again and again, in place of any mandated biographical narrative. Instead of discussions of their sound and content, the opposite occurred: all the critical responses were bits of amateur detective work and gross speculation, positing theories (either researched or very much not researched) about who this band really were. For a crew who were hoping to let their music speak for itself, and bask in free-thinking responses tinged with liberation, inspiration, and interpretation, it was like a utopian dream reduced to a sad, bureaucratic nightmare.
So, out they came. From behind those masks. The truth turned out to be far less strange than fiction: WU LYF were not an actual cult dabbling in music, nor some monstrous collective out to raze the recognizable landscape of performance. They were, indeed, that most generic of rock-bands: four males who'd grown up as friends, playing songs on guitar, organ, bass, and drums. With that anticlimactic revelation out of the way, the stage is set to receive WU LYF's debut album on its own terms, not as the latest piece in a carefully-orchestrated puzzle.
Godspeed You Youth Foundation!
Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is an album clearly in debt to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It's not a superficial resemblance, but a connection that runs far beneath the skin-deep. It's there in WU LYF's fondness for mystery, for bizarre written texts, for authoring music as soundtracks for imaginary movies; and, even, more specifically, in the way the songs gather steam as they progress, marshaling martial drums and heading heavenward on sky-straddled peaks of pealing guitars. WU LYF may practice something closer to indie-rock, but they don't spare the epic heft or on-the-edge emotion: this is a band unafraid of suggestions of grandeur.
"Such a Sad Puppy Dog" —a composition of much post-rock-ish grandeur— even touches on a favored theme of Efrim Menuck: the fragility and mortality of pets. Similarly, WU LYF's approach to vocals echoes Menuck's post-GY!BE project A Silver Mt. Zion, even if band-leader Ellery Roberts' rasping voice —thus far compared favorably to Tom Waits, unfavorably to Gomez's Ian Ball— doesn't initially suggest the connection.
After Godspeed, Menuck wanted to punctuate broad, cinematic music with the specificity of words, and had his band sing with a sense of communal spirit, caterwauling broadly into their shared space, voices amplifying the fire they feel in their belly. In the moments in which WU LYF join in, in lusty chorus, you get that same sensation, that same frisson from human voices standing stark naked, screaming into the void.
We're So Loud and Incoherent
Strangely, WU LYF also remind me of a completely different crew of Canadians, Born Ruffians (and, in turn, the bands that birthed them, Modest Mouse and Wolf Parade);. You can hear it, clearly, in the boisterous, boysy bonhomie of "We Bros," a giddy jamboree of singalong uplift whose simple hook —which is, perhaps with some irony, just "We bros!" over and over— lacks the kind of apocalyptic doom portended by either WU LYF's Godspeed! jones or masked-outlaw photo shoots. "Spitting Blood" may have a chorus that simply offers this cryptic couplet, "Spitting blood/like the golden sun god," but its repeated mantra is "we are so happy/happy to say."
Say what? Something indecipherable. Given the way Roberts tends towards the gargling-with-marbles vocal, perhaps the terminally-misheard Kurt Cobain is a better vocal comparison. Although, nearly two decades after that great alt-rock ghost's suicide, it's still a loaded connection to make, suggesting someone at the edge of sanity, spouting nonsense poetry in free-associative torment. WU LYF are, as their entire conceptual history attests, never that tortured or obtuse, even if Roberts could do with better diction.
That an insistent 'message' doesn't arrive from listening to Go Tell Fire to the Mountain is, if initially surprising, keeping with WU LYF's fondness for open-ended-ness. Even Roberts' lyrics being buried in screams —his hoarse wails more textural than textual— reflects back on the whole; the words as indivisible from the music as the album is from the myth that preceded it.
Record Label: LYF
Release Date: June 13, 2011