WU LYF - Go Tell Fire to the Mountain

by Rich Morris Rating:2 Release Date:2011-06-13

There's a new game in town which the smart kids are playing. It's called 'holding stuff back', and in our information-addled, gossip-addicted world, it's just about the most exciting thing a band can do. In an era when, for a pop act to be really successful, we expect to have a hand in their selection, grooming, suffering and final anointment for stardom, a band who give away as little as possible are sure to attract a huge amount of attention. From Cults to Hurts, it's a media-savy dance many are waking up to.

None have pushed it quite as far as Manchester's WU LYF. Their restrained, enigmatic, austere internet presence was like catnip for journos used to popping a new band's name into a search engine to get all the info they needed. What we knew about this band - their home-town, the penchant for masks, their apparent preferred leisure activity of hanging around carparks burning stuff - added up to a intriguing underdog package compounded by the fact it was near impossible to hear much of their music. Their first single, after all, went for £50, a sure-fire way to create an instant cultural relic.

It was enough for the band to be hailed as outsider artists in some quarters, maverick digital-age guerillas, a shadowy black-ops unit performing some sort of situationist art prank. However, if you stopped to think for a minute, things didn't quite add up. For a start, far from rejecting social media, this was a gimmick which could only work within it. In the pre-internet age, fans, journalists even, didn't expect to know much about new bands. A band starting out could expect to build up a fanbase slowly through touring, giving them time to polish their look and mythology for when the NME came knocking. An artist such as Bowie, for example, could be knocking around in the cultural backwaters for years before suddenly leapfrogging to wider consciousness.

Now, so spoilt are we by instant access, all a band has to do is refuse to grant an interview and many supposedly respectable writers will scrabble over each other to proclaim them outsider rock geniuses. You can't blame WU LYF for being as astute as they clearly are, of course, although what they've done is not even that new. Godspeed You Black Emperor! were doing the exact same thing back in the late 90s, and they had the added cachet of walking it like they talked it, being a collective of squat dwelling hippies.

The bottom line is, you don't bother playing cat-and-mouse with an audience unless you're pretty confident that audience is out there and you can afford to spend a year or so teasing them. And if that's the case, it follows that it's unlikely the music you'll eventually reveal to the world will be something which might drastically alienate your audience. An album of Mongolian nose flute parping, for example, would only squander the interest you've built up.

With that in mind, we turn our attention, finally, to Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, WU LYF's much salivated over debut album. We've taken the scenic route here because, frankly, there's not that much to say about it. The sound is big. In fact, one could go so far as to call it bombastic, implying it's also a bit empty on the content front. Which it is. Some of this lack of substance is down to the fact it's almost impossible to understand anything being sung. The vocals sound like Caleb Followill after a tonsillectomy, or just someone doing a very bad impersonation of Caleb Followill to the detriment of their ability to annunciate. It gets very tiresome way before the album's 10 tracks have run out.

The biggest problem with Go Tell Fire... is the big, hollow music, which sounds like all the anthemic bits of every Arcade Fire album collected and sequenced one after the other so it just becomes an endless, textureless series of pounding peaks and occasional, plangent, quieter bits which sound a bit sad, probably at some abstract notion lost innocence, before the loud anthemic bit crashes in again, sounding uplifting but dirgey at the same time.

Possibly unintentionally, WU LYF have pulled off a smart bit of marketing by tapping into the currently chic notion of guerilla hacker cells such as LulzSec and Anonymous, whose members are shadowy and adept at courting media attention without revealing their identities. However, Go Tell Fire... confirms that WU LYF have no agenda beyond building much-needed hype behind some pedestrian, blustery guitar music. They are not radicals, least of all in the style of music they make.

If anything, rather than transcending our information-junkie age, WU LYF have proved how dependent we have become on using the internet as an indicator of where our tastes should lie. In WU LYF's case, a careful lack of information was all the music writers needed to declare them a band who must be worth our attention. Well, they're not. There's a lesson here. Let's not get fooled again.

Overall Rating (0)

0 out of 5 stars
  • Well said. This album is one major letdown. I managed to get to the last track but had to turn it off before the end as the singer's voice is really painful.

    Every song sounds the same and while that has worked for numerous bands down the years, it doesn't work here.

    Fair play to their design agency management team for building up so much hype, just a shame they couldn't have delivered the goods.