Review Summary: Living with our strange diseases
It can't be easy for a band so early in their career to feel the awful spectre of "how can they follow this up" as Gang of Youths must. Their debut The Positions
was better than any Australian rock record in 2015 had any right to be, coming across like the tragic subject matter of the Antlers' Hospice
told with the self-deprecating, brutally honest writing of Matthew Berninger or Jerry Jones. Gang of Youths exploded the scene with David Le'aupepe's autobiographical lyricism and their twisting of raucous rock-and-roll into six-to-seven minute mammoths which don't crescendo so much as erupt, spewing forth buzzsaw guitar lines and Le'aupepe's impassioned yelps.
Album (or career) highlight "The Good Fight" takes its delicate time with a soft, heavily stringed four-and-a-half-minute beginning inching slowly towards an explosion. Le'aupepe sounds like a man possessed as he screams declarations of his anti-materialistic philosophy that's been forming since "Poison Drum", if not before. In fact, without the story of his former girlfriend's cancer diagnosis to drive this EP like it drove The Positions
, Le'aupepe is freer to indulge in his no-bull***, uniquely Australian philosophising, and the lyrics on Let Me Be Clear
are all the better and more cutting for it. It doesn't hurt that he's one of the best singers in the game right now, channelling Dustin Kensrue's gravelly beauty on "A Sudden Light" and switching capably between a smooth falsetto and razor-sharp emotional wails as the music demands it.
The expectation of sophomore slump can be enough by itself to throw off the career of the most promising bands, and it would have been easy for Gang of Youths to keep churning out string-tinged rock songs along the lines of "Magnolia" for the foreseeable future. Instead, from the day they released the delicate two-minute piano ballad "Riverlands" as a single they've shown an insatiable thirst to keep building and transforming their sound. No other band at the moment is giving rock the shot in the arm it needs; get to Let Me Be Clear
before Triple J does and bask in its slow, vicious glory.