Leading today's pack of gnashing, anti-establishment wolves are Manchester's WU LYF, a quartet who play self-described "heavy pop." Formed in 2008, they are the latest followers in the Mancunian footsteps of Joy Division, the Buzzcocks and the Smiths, to name a few. Their debut, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain (out now digitally, Aug. 22 on CD/LP), comes at you with a feel and a sound that's emblematic of the chaotic state of culture in 2011. (The act's name is an acronym for "World Unite/Lucifer Youth Foundation," and is pronounced "Woo Life.")
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Frontman Ellery Roberts says he created the band to be the kind of group he'd always wanted to hear. He then attempted to shroud them in mystery, snubbing the press, periodically deleting their Wikipedia page and blowing off record-industry courtships. Instead, the group recorded in an abandoned church, put out their LP on their own Lyf Recording label, and sold $1 "shares" to fans/stockholders. In a sense, WU LYF has built its own economic system, not a bad idea at a time when the other one is crumbling.
Their music, meanwhile, is ego- and irony-free. Some compare them to uplifting orchestral pop acts like Explosions in the Sky -- what with their sparkling guitars and dramatic percussion. But Roberts' vocals sound something like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits, and his decayed, gasping shout channels the sobbing ghost of Joe Strummer. On standout track "We Bros," Roberts sings: "The mountain won't go falling/If you're still willing to climb/But when the mountain goes falling/True riches you will find/We were born as animals and we bros/But you put suits on animals/You try to put suits on animals but ... you lost man!"
The group's shows invoke the feel of protest rallies, as do the images in the videos for songs like "Dirt." They call on their listeners and their shareholders to "bring fuel to the fires started by kids no longer blinded by spectacle glare." You'd also be wise to bring your own gas mask.
WU LYF make their L.A. debut Tue., July 26, at 8:30 p.m. at the Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. $13. All ages.