Former WU LYF frontman Ellery Roberts returns with LUH, his new project with visual artist Ebony Hoorn. Produced by the Haxan Cloak, their debut is a vast, swaggering colossus.
British band WU LYF began their brief career in anonymity and burned out in a press storm. Frontman Ellery Roberts, then 21, was the architect of their spectacular demise: "WU LYF is dead to me," he declared in an open letter to his bandmates, complaining that their acclaimed debut, a kind of protest album for the disenchanted, had got his revolutionary energy all messed up. "The sincerity of ‘Go tell fire’ was lost in the bull shit of maintaining face in the world we live," he wrote. Roberts’ return a year later, a solo video for "Kerou’s Lament," which depicted a little girl drenching herself in gasoline and threatening to self-immolate, felt like a reprimand to anyone still unconvinced of Roberts’ grandiose sincerity. He doubled down last November, publishing a 1000-word manifesto for LUH (Lost Under Heaven)—his new project with the visual artist Ebony Hoorn—which seemed to rally for the downfall of western capitalism.
Unsurprisingly, LUH’s debut album, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing, is not an exercise in subtlety. Roberts’ embattled rasp still dominates, thrashing about like a blindfolded gargoyle. His lyrics, a fervid blend of self-seriousness and paranoia, pursue doomed dreams in the face of unnamed oppressors. For Roberts, music is a furnace in which to hurl the caution and humility he believes restrain us in everyday life. The result is a revelatory experience that requires no legible revelations: vocals of ecstatic defiance matched to music seemingly composed of pure magnitude; melancholic synths, sparse guitars, and bombastic strings and drums. The overall feeling is of an all-hands, against-the-odds triumph against staggering forces.
Roberts' ambition is vague enough to be limitless, and while reliably earnest, he’s uninterested in anyone’s approval. That mix could herald disaster, but Roberts, more restrained as a songwriter than singer, is smart with his flair. Produced by the Haxan Cloak, Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing is a vast, swaggering colossus, imbued with waves of reverb and gothic flourishes that meet its frontman’s astronomical intensity. "Lost Under Heaven," a magnificent shoegaze thrash, climaxes with a euphoric call-to-arms—"And we all know that it’s bullshit/They say it’s just life, and we live it"—whose crude, cheap-seats sloganeering has no right to feel so poignant.
That being said, chasing crescendos is an exhausting hobby, and the hourlong LP is hard work. It’s unclear whether LUH see Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing as playful melodrama or realism in a doomed world; either way, they came equipped for an epic task. The record’s crux is the ravey "$ORO," in which Roberts gives voice to an unrepentant one-percenter: "Once I lived a life like you/Jealous of the ease of a privileged few/But I earned a life like this ... It is something that you’ll never understand/We are born free to exploit this land." The ensuing drop, a punishing gabber beat reminiscent of Björk and Arca’s "Black Lake," turns the record on its head, clearing the slate for a reflective, romantic closing suite.
The inspiration for that turnaround is Ebony Hoorn, who apparently restored Roberts’ dwindling faith in the human race the moment they met, in 2012, at his squat in Manchester. Her spotlight moment is "Future Blues," a gorgeous ballad of languid guitars, digitized chatter, and slow, sunrise synths: "I’m so bored of this reality/Of fearful men trying to limit me," she sings, poised between despondence and third-act redemption. On "Lament," the update of "Kerou’s Lament," Hoorn concedes, "There’s still a part of me that wants your love inside of me." Her soothing tones are a balm to listeners alongside Roberts’ arid growl, even as her presence lifts him into fits of rapturous defiance: "To the powers of hope/To the powers that be/You’ve fucked up this world but you won’t fuck with me!"
Roberts’ chronic nihilism, in WU LYF and since, often seems rooted in the ennui of aggressive individualism, where the only thing left to save is oneself (and even that’s barely worth it). "Lament" offers up a reprieve, as Roberts clasps onto love like a cliff ledge and clambers right back up, thankful for the air in his lungs. At the end of its video, the band’s initials are sentimentally repurposed: "Love Unites Humanity." From a man given to grand anti-capitalist screeds, it’s a disarmingly sweet touch.