Albums, Music, The Revue — August 21, 2017 at 5:35 am

Gang of Youths – ‘Go Farther in Lightness’ (album review)

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“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas’ poem remains one of the most iconic pieces of literature. It was not merely a lament to his father but also a petition to humanity to fight each day and live boldly. Seventy years later, its sequel has arrived in the form of Gang of Youths‘ powerful and epic new album, Go Farther in Lightness. If Thomas’ poem was the battle against the darkness, this sprawling, 16-song, 77-minute masterpiece is the triumph of light over the impending end. It is the celebration of all the things that have come to pass, of the people we’ve met and loved, and our failures and successes.

The album’s bookends encapsulate Gang of Youths’ core message and introduces the storytelling exploits of front man David Le’aupepe and the cathartic symphonic indie-rock of the Sydney-based quintet. The opener “Fear and Trembling” starts off like an Elton John-esque piano ballad before it roars into an anthemic and joyous occasion. In the meantime, Le’aupepe reveals the fears in his heart and the things he’s missing out.

“And I waited on forever,
But forever never came.
Just a latent sense of loyalty
To the things I love in vain.
And now I’m terrified of loving
‘Coz I’m terrified of pain
And of missing out on human things
By cowering away.

On the five-minute, heart-racing closer,  “Say Yes to Life”, which features, soaring strings and bombastic percussion, Le’aupepe takes the role of the preacher and implores his congregation to dismiss hate and embrace the most powerful emotion. He hollers with pain and urgency, “Say yes to grace. Say no to spite. Say yes to this, say yes to you, say yes to me, say yes to love! Say yes to love!”

Those two songs are just microcosms of the euphoric power and lyrical prowess of Gang of Youths. Exhilaration is achieved on the soaring “Atlas Drowned”, an unrelenting burner that recalls Frightened Rabbit’s fearless message of never succumbing to the oppressors no matter the odds. The boisterous ripper and one of the album’s many highlights, “What Can I Do if the Fire Goes Out?”, is The National-like in its bombastic orchestral ambition and in its message. As the dueling guitars and militaristic rhythms whirl in the background, Le’aupepe shares the struggles of one person who has “been tossed aside” and trying to find meaning his life.

On the more melancholic “Keep Me in the Open” and “Persevere”, the band offers two beautifully orchestrated, brooding numbers that echo The National’s work on Boxer and Trouble Will Find Me. But unlike the American indie giants, Gang of Youths offer messages of hope and optimism. It is not darkness that they find, but instead the prevailing lightness inside all. As Le’aupepe languidly sings on the latter:

And I’m tired of trying to find some sort of meaningful thing
In making sense of such unspeakable loss.
But as I’m staring at your folks,
The sweetest people i know.
I get a glimpse of what it is to be strong
Just holding hands and sobbing with sunglasses on.”

In the heart of the album, the band offers a slight reprieve and turn to the theatre and Greek mythology for inspiration. On “Achilles Come Down”, the quintet simultaneously become Homer, Ernest Hemingway, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and they deliver a stunning, symphonic lament to the world. Gang of Youths return to the present day on the remorseful and emotive “The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows”, which echoes the moving and introspective indie-rock ballads of Gin Blossoms. The orchestration is cinematic, creating a soundscape that moves from the serene to heart-pounding. Meanwhile, Le’aupepe takes us inside his mind and soul, as he reveals his everyday struggles of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Where Gang of Youths really demonstrate their sonic and lyrical mastery is when two songs seamless merge to from one unforgettable experience, and they do this twice. The first sequence is the cosmic duo of “L’imaginaire” and “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane”. The former is a short instrumental that sounds like a lullaby, but it then gives way to the soothing, languidness of the latter. Despite the beauty of the song, its message is knee-buckling. Le’aupepe’s powerful vocals are turned into a whisper, as he tells an engrossing tale of a man who despite having nothing had everything. Then one day, his two treasures are forever taken away.

The second of the sonic enterprises begins with “Le Symbolique”. For nearly four minutes, Gang of Youths sweep aside all worries and pain with an elegant and moving instrumental that would make the Sydney Symphony Orchestra proud. Then suddenly the tempo accelerates, and the energy picks up. The arrival of “Let Me Down Easy” represents the album’s apex. Heavy rhythms and the strum of strings create a tantalizingly groovy vibe, but the song then slowly turns into a levitating, breathtaking anthem. The track, however, is anything but a fleeting escapade. It is a story of two people wanting and fighting for different things – one for a cause and the other for each other (think Forrest Gump).

So you can join the cowards all aboard the outrage train.
You can stay afraid or slit the throat of fear and be brave,
And scratch a little itch ‘til you’re moving like a motherfucker
Up in this bitch.
You wanted to fight for a cause?
Then go out and fall in love.

These line captures what Go Farther in Lightness represents. The album is not solely a message of hope and optimism, of love and unity. It is one about humanity and the power of the human spirit, which can overcome even the most excruciating and darkest moments. It is about that faint light that glimmers inside all of us, often acting as our guide through the perilous tunnel and out into the waiting expanse that is life. On Gang of Youths’ sophomore album, the light is not undying. It is instead is just awakening.

Go Father in Lightness is out now via Mosy Recordings with exclusive rights to Sony Music.

Gang of Youths are Max Dunn (bass), Jung Kim (guitar/keyboards), David Le’aupepe (lead vocals/piano), Joji Malani (lead guitar), and Donnie Borzestowski (drums). They are heading out on tour August 26th, beginning with a coast-to-coast-to-coast-to-coast journey of Australia before heading to Europe. Dates can be found here. No word on North American dates at this time.

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Featured image by Maclay Heriot.

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