Slow Burn: Wu Lyf's Go Tell Fire To The Mountain

On July 19, 2016

Trying to keep up with new records often feels like trying to plug a dam with a piece of chewing gum; the deluge is going to keep happening whether you like it or not, and you’re going to miss some things. The Slow Burn is our column where writers talk about albums they “missed”—which in today’s music Twitter era, could mean they didn’t listen to it in the 5 days around when it came out—and why they regret they didn’t get to the album till now. This edition covers Wu Lyf's Go Tell Fire to the Mountain.

Sometimes, exactly what you need to hear sounds like hell when it first reaches your ears. When a friend of mine sent me LUH’s “Lament” a few months back, Ellery Roberts’ harsh growl made me press skip, and turn it off. But for some reason, I gave it another chance By about the third time he howled “To powers of old/ To powers that be/ You fucked up this world, but you won’t fuck with me,” I was hooked. I devoured LUH’s Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, and quickly moved onto my first listen to WU LYF’s Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, the latter totally capturing my imagination in that moment, and every time I’ve listened to it since.

In 2011, I was mostly unaware to the shitstorm surrounding WU LYF, and in some ways it may have worked to my benefit. I wasn’t able to feel relentlessly teased by the anti-marketing push behind their demo. I didn’t have that hype met by what some could see as just another white-bro indie-rock record. I wasn’t able to be turned off by their outwardly preachy demeanor, at a time when I was admittedly too shallow a listener to see through it. Five years later, I see this record from a fresh perspective as a document of a band that lit themselves on fire, burned as bright, hot, and tall as they could until there was nothing but ashes.

Ellery Roberts wields a raspy, cavernous howl so harsh and abrasive that it sounds like each yelp does irreparable damage to his vocal cords. He growls stark manifestos that YOU MUST HEAR RIGHT NOW, even if it’s impossible to understand anything that he’s saying without a lyrics sheet. The band described their sound as “heavy pop,” but I hear something closer to an unhinged Explosions in the Sky with tighter song-structure and a screaming lunatic at the center, or Sigur Ros hell-bent on destruction. The drums march with intense purpose, the bass carries constant forward momentum, the guitar executes delicate melodic acrobatic maneuvers in midair, tied together by a goddamned church organ, all creating a waterspout around Ellery’s voice.

The album’s title is echoed in the song “Summas Bliss” with a line that goes “I see a mountain on fire. Go tell the fire for us.” If you read into the band’s antiestablishmentarian message, the “mountain” is the Man, the Establishment, or any large body that has taken it upon themselves, through some means of monetary or political success, to tell others what to do. That’s the easy interpretation, and honestly what I think Ellery was probably going for when he and the rest of WU LYF wrote these songs. Listening to this record in 2016, I’m getting something different. We, as individuals or even as a sold-out club worshipping at the altar of rock-n-roll, cannot move those mountains. I don’t mean to sound like a defeatist, but so many people get caught up in the romanticism and sensational ideals of Change, and grand Purpose, they ignore the only thing that we truly have the duty to change; ourselves.

WU LYF preached political and societal change through destruction and conflagration while totally on fire. They lead by example, which is rare in the days of writing long slacktivist rants on Facebook followed by extended Netflix sessions. On the album’s single, “We Bros,” Ellery screams “Maybe we will fail, but at least we will be free.” It’s as if by dooming themselves to only one album cycle, they were free from the cyclical album, tour, album, tour, album rhythm that other indie-rock bands need to follow to survive. In an infamous public letter, one that was apparently surprising to the rest of the band, he stated “If this is our last month living, apocalypse looming, I am not going to spend my final hours waiting in purgatory,” less than a month before 12/21/2012, and proclaimed “WU LYF is dead to me.”

An oft cited passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians goes “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but don’t have love, I have nothing.” In 2016, there are a lot of people spewing fire and brimstone to try to move mountains, and with that comes anger. Sometimes anger is deserved and righteous, but it is always destructive, and destruction has consequences. Ellery Roberts makes angry music. His anger feels deserved, it sounds totally righteous, and it absolutely destroys me when I listen to it. That destruction has consequences too. It burns away my beliefs and pretensions about what I think this record has to say, and instead I just feel it. I feel the love that WU LYF poured into this record. I feel the love that I can share with total strangers, because you never know what kind of day someone is having. I feel the love I need to share with my friends and family now, because I could never possibly give enough. I feel the love I have for myself, even when I’m at my most self-critical. It sounds corny as hell, but it’s true, and if you let this record burn you down you will feel it too.

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