I guess it's the reason why everyone else owns smartphones – so they don't end up with a hundred bits of paper in their pockets, each one scrappily decorated with indecipherable scrawlings and biro hieroglyphs. The fact these messages were obviously considered important enough to write down at the time makes it all the more frustrating when you realise you have no idea what they mean.
For instance, imagine the confusion of turning over an expired coffee voucher to find the enigmatic words “wu lyf” scribbled hastily on the back, and having no idea what it means. Is it an abandoned take-away order? Some sort of shamanistic mantra? A Welsh village? I studied it hard for a few minutes. Usually these things turn out to be music related, but even then the mystery persisted; it sounded like it could be anything from a post-dubstep outfit to a Chinese folk singer. Presumably it was something I'd either heard, liked and wanted to remember, or something someone else had heard, liked and wanted to inflict on me.
When I finally got round to putting it into Google, the answer became clear. It was the latter. Maybe it was just the disappointment of finding out the answer to my riddle was simply four blokes from Manchester - but I'd been hoping for something magic; this was mediocrity.
However, my blind voyage into the world of Wu Lyf was no less informed than most people's. The band, (or, more likely, manager Warren Bramley, the founder of an ad agency who clearly learnt a lot from his time working with Factory's Tony Wilson) decided that the best way to court attention was to ignore it. Thus for over a year the band did no interviews, refused all press requests and released only one publicity shot where their faces were obscured by scarves and smoke. They played no gigs outside of Manchester. No one even knew their names. And by denying all but the barest scraps of information, they ensured everyone was ravenous for more.
Which is just as well, as the music itself could never have hoped to achieve the same results on its own. Much has been made of the fact that they recorded “Go Tell Fire To The Mountain” in a disused church, and certainly the acoustic ambience – the record is drenched in reverb – adds an atmospheric grandiosity. But it also means all the tracks sound very similar.
This is exacerbated by most of the songs being built around simple, sustained organ chords and chiming guitars, knocking out endless meandering counter-melodies that don't ever seem to reach a destination. And then you have singer Ellery Roberts' singing. Plenty will love his gruff, impassioned exaltations, but plenty will be repelled too. The lyrics, heavily endowed with biblical imagery and dissatisfaction with modern life, are rendered almost completely superfluous as he chooses to pronounce everything like Papa Lazarou. He can be powerful right enough, but he has the versatility of a menhir.
Occasionally it works. “A Sad Puppy Dog” benefits from a bit of restraint - and a slower pace - which makes lyrics like “you know my brother's in jail / My father said son / Oh son I can't afford his bail” all the more affecting. Of course you have to read the lyric sheet to realise they're affecting, but there is a real grace to the way the song fades out to the gentle lap of organ waves. “We Bros” keeps a similar tempo but adds a sheen of optimism, resulting in an uplifting Arcade Fire-esque anthem (although whether a song seemingly about the slavery of capitalism should sound so cheery is a moot point as the lyrics are predictably unintelligible).
Sadly, over ten tracks it all becomes a bit wearying. Akin to the overwrought Glasvegas, Wu Lyf are like an amp with the volume stuck at 8, or a toaster with one setting. No problem if you always like your toast slightly overdone I suppose. But if you prefer a bit of emotional variety you'll find yourself irritated (we're not talking about toast any more obviously. I've never eaten emotional toast). And if I'm disappointed that “Go Tell Fire To The Mountain” doesn't reach the standards promised by a piece of paper in my back pocket, I imagine plenty of people will feel let down that it's not the life-affirming, ground-breaking masterpiece the music press seemed to assume it would be. It's not all Wu Lyf's fault though. All they did was release a scrap of material; it was the media that started claiming it might be from the Turin Shroud.