WU LYF’s Go Tell Fire to the Mountain remains a relic of its time
Original release date: 13 June 2011
Label: LYF Recordings
In 2008, WU LYF emerged as if from nowhere. They appeared, not like a thunderbolt or some great revelation, but more like some food court evangelist or door-to-door salesman slinging snake oil – sliding, grinning and unchallenged, into Manchester’s musical fabric with uncanny ease.
Courting an air of mystery with their half-pseudonyms and reluctance to engage with the music press on any meaningful level, WU LYF had no apparent history, collective or individual. They were, at least as much as is possible in that early internet age, a blank slate.
Comprised of four members – Jeau, Evnse, Lung and Elle Jaie; or, Joe Manning, Tom McLung, Evans Kati and Ellery Roberts – the name WU LYF in itself was a puzzle. An acronym for ‘World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation’, it nodded provocatively at the sort of religious and political groups that whip up fanaticism through loosely interpreted ideologies; the Scientologies and Westboro Baptist Churches of this world, that were just beginning to stake their cultural claims.
In this sense, you have to wonder whether a band like WU LYF would have been able to exist today. Or, if they could, whether they should. We have, collectively, moved past the internet’s first Age of Innocence, where mystery was valuable currency, and into another where total exposure is not just expected but demanded.
Still, even in the late 2000s, WU LYF were not entirely immune from the more mundane aspects of band life necessary for success. After two years of garnering a significant fanbase in their home city, WU LYF played their first shows outside of Manchester, taking the LYF gospel to festivals in France and Germany, and sold-out shows from London to Glasgow. A year after that, they committed to offering up physical, lasting proof of their existence in the form of their debut – and as it would turn out, only – album: Go Tell Fire to the Mountain.
In typically iconoclastic fashion, they rejected countless label offers in favour of releasing the record via their own LYF Recordings label. The music itself was a heady mix of pop, post-punk and post-rock which saw the band marry sounds which seem totally opposed to one another. On paper it shouldn’t work, and maybe the evidence bore this out. But it was their gnarly, twisted delivery that brought everything together.
Still, Go Tell Fire… is a relic of its time: an artefact that, at first glance, neatly encapsulates what music sounded like as we moved from one decade into the next. On closer inspection, the record is no more – and no less – than the sum of its references. The tremolo-picked guitars and loud-quiet dynamics of imperial phase Explosions in the Sky, the big-empty-room reverb of its production – cribbed straight from Sigur Rós’ infamous swimming pool studio – and the vocal yips and squawks painfully similar to Foals’ Yannis Philippakis. All of these are present on Go Tell Fire…, and all of these contributed to what made WU LYF such an exciting proposition at the time. But none of it is unique. And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it feels disappointing coming from a band who, for a brief moment, seemed interested in doing things differently.
Looking back through a more cynical lens, for all of Go Tell Fire…’s irreverent energy, the whole thing can start to feel a little focus-grouped. Right down to a DIY ethic that coincidentally fell apart the moment any semblance of success came calling. Ten years later, it’s not that the album hasn’t aged well, per se. It’s more that we’ve aged around it. We moved on, and WU LYF lost their place in the cultural consciousness quickly and quietly – fading into obscurity almost as quickly as they surfaced.