Fronted by Sue Tompkins and her free-associative language, the band have become a touchstone for TikTok teens – and, on their 20th anniversary, still sound like no one else

Amid a relentless stream of events that are not what we bargained for, one tiny good thing has come out of nowhere: the sudden return of the cult Glasgow band Life Without Buildings, thanks to viral ubiquity on TikTok.

All over the app, teenagers (notably young women) are using a 15-second slice of the band’s math-y post-rock single The Leanover, released before they were born, to soundtrack videos in which they, well, do what teenagers do: bleach their hair, demonstrate “fairycore” makeup, vape exuberantly or simply emote for the front-facing camera. Most often, though, they mime enthusiastically to singer Sue Tompkins’ remarkable vocal performance, which veers charismatically somewhere between the stylings of Gertrude Stein and TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. “If I lose you, if I lose you,” she chants, over Chris Evans’ bass thrum, “uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, mm-mmm.” A stuttering, sung-spoken incantation of wired and insensible longing, it sounds improvised, as if it fell out of her mouth fully formed, though it wasn’t. One TikToker captioned their video: “These aren’t words but I like them.” Another wrote: “I have no idea what this means but I love it.”

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