"Who Lyf?" you might well be asking. The Mancunian band have been flitting in and out of the shadows of the music world for roughly a year now, giving away very little until very recently. For a while no one in the wider music world knew how many people were in the band, what they looked like or even what they played, with the only musical evidence of their existence being a collection of rough demos with ever-changing names and the only press shot being that of a gang of disguised rapscallions, seemingly wearing Topman’s "Anarchy" range. Now, with the album officially released tomorrow (and floating around the internets at this very moment), info on Wu Lyf is a lot more concrete, and a lot less interesting than their self-created mysterious air made out.
Four young Mancuninan lads playing music that sounds like very little else out there. Sound overly familiar? It does seem to happen every ten years or so. But where their predecessors were true game-changers and innovators in the alternative music world, Wu Lyf fall quite short. Yes, they’re pretty unique, sounding as they do, like Tom Waits fronting Bombay Bicycle Club. But it’s this uniqueness that also drags them down. Frontman Ellery Roberts decision to sing incomprehensibly as if he’s gargled a ton of gravel does well to ensure some mystery still remains around the band but along with the instrumentation, it doesn’t help distinguish the tracks. Instead of drawing you in, Roberts voice keeps you from truly connecting with the songs.
Basically it seems as if Wu Lyf have two song modes: fast, upbeat indie pop, with impassioned-yet-indecipherable lyrics, reverb-drowned, spectral guitar lines, a bit of organ and funky drumming OR slow, downbeat indie pop with impassioned-yet-… you get the idea. It’s all a little samey, and just melds into one 47 minute long song. Taken on their own, out of album context, most of the songs here are pretty impressive. For instance, Dirt is a great rebellious anthem built around a nice bit of rhetoric (“No matter what they say, dollar is not your friend”, which is at odds with their recent publishing deal with Universal, although they admirably are self-releasing the album, and the street patois used on their website), whilst Spitting Blood is an idyllic alternative summer anthem. But if, say, the tracks came up on shuffle, you’d be hard pressed to name which was which.
The deliberate attempt to stand out from the crowd takes away from what could be an extremely promising debut album. These songs are crying out for some proper skyscraping choruses, to push “Go Tell Fire To The Mountain” that little bit further, but really, Dirt is the only thing you can imagine getting a crowd singalong. I’ll admit, it took me a while to “get” Wu Lyf, and when I did, I was quite excited for the prospect of their debut album, that perhaps we might have something very special on our hands.
But in the end, it’s all a little emperor’s new clothes unfortunately. Sure, they’ll gain a sizeable following with the teenage hipster/typical Tumblr user crowd, with their mysterious vibe and vague anti-establishment stance, same as Crystal Castles. They are intriguing and it’s easy to get swept up in the rhetoric. They’re enigmatic, they look and seem cool, their spiel and schtick, whilst pretentious, hooks you in. Even as I’m writing this, I still sort of, in the back of my mind, want to a part of this movement (or whatever you want to call it). But as a whole, “Go Tell Fire…” underwhelms. The image is more appealing than the songs, which is never a good sign for a band that wants to last. If only they’d spent more time on the songs than the myth they built for themselves. Judging from their image, I’m sure becoming something of an underdog will suit Wu Lyf down to the ground. I’m willing to be proven wrong on album #2.