Review Summary: Soaring rock anthems and moments of tender self-realization that will stop you in your tracks.
This Goddamn record. This heroic, string-laden, driving guitar saturated, self-aware, atmospheric clinic of heart-on-your-sleeve ROCK, this is it. The final 2 minutes are a furious crescendo of call-to arm drums, the kind of inspired piano you see when the artist kicks back his stool to show he means serious Goddamn business, climbing guitars that would make The Edge cream himself in mega-reverb ecstasy, lyrics ripped from the monologues of poetic inspirational speakers, and an atmosphere that someone just figured his sh*t out and has achieved the level of self-realization that only comes on the wings of the hardest redemption. This is “Say Yes to Life,” and it perfectly encapsulates this opera, this masterpiece, this 77-minute self-help mantra set to a monstrously delicious co-mingling of soaring rock anthems and moments of tender self-realization that will stop you in your tracks. Welcome to the modern epic rock album, the way it should be done.
“If I could reach out of the screen and give you something to believe in, I would.” A fitting lamentation, and visceral, grandiose displays are how future Aussie rock God David Le’aupepe and company do things. Previous effort “Positions” was a 70-minute treatise on cancer and its soul-crushing devastation. “Go Farther in Lightness” is more than a quintessential statement of optimism, it’s a glaringly beautiful canvas devoted to setting the heart on fire. It has the impact and the necessary sincerity immediately identifiable and impossible to fake. The first 2 minutes begin with a gentle piano/vocal hook that recalls night walking, early Tom Waits, and what Bruce Springsteen would sound like if Australia was somehow supplanted into the carnival shores of Jersey. “Fear and Trembling”, this magnificent anthem bursting with poetic tropes of self-lamentation, explodes into an ascending, pretentious-in-the-right-way rock clinic that the Killers have been unsuccessfully trying to write for 14 years. “You’ll feel it in your bones. You’ll feel it in your heart. You’ll feel it in your f*cking skull.” Its that kind of song, the one that feels existential by talking about being existential. It’s just Goddamn glorious.
Speaking of the Killers, the punch of “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out” and “Atlas Drowned” are the kind of cathartic, indie rock fist-raisers that Brandon Flowers was going for on “Sam’s Town” but wasn’t smart enough to rip off Bruce Springsteen’s brand of Americana correctly, and the War on Drugs and Gaslight Anthem didn’t exist yet. “Atlas Drowned” has that moment when everything stops. Then the guitars come in. Then Le’aupepe laments about the “heart of redemption” over surging power chords, the drums of war, and scrapes the range of his vocal chords alongside an absolutely trenchant melodic display. As for The National, “Keep Me in the Open” is seriously going to piss Matt Berninger off. The baritone, the gorgeous piano/vocal tradeoff, the gentle, marching band drum step, and the lyrics about girls and “heart in the gutter” types sleeping on stranger’s knees; every National trope is on full display. Like his very heart and soul, Le’aupepe wears his influences on his sleeve, and while clearly identifiable, it’s clear he chooses the right ones.
“Go Farther in Lightness” is designed for greatness. It’s cataclysmically huge, and it’s clear that it absolutely is supposed to be. String sections abound, quiet/loud atmospherics create a titanic feeling, and violin interludes prescribe the delicious intermissions found on the greatest rock operas. All of these tricks are deployed well, but in the end, it wouldn’t matter if the music wasn’t executed well. On a record of jaw-dropping moments, the apex is found on “The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows,” absolutely one of the best rock songs of the decade. The video is exclusively about Le’aupepe fervently sprinting towards something, chasing the unsayable, achieving the unbearable, and it’s the perfect accompaniment for a song that relies on metaphor laden atmospherics while exploding into primal beauty. This song, this Goddamn gorgeous execution of soul fire, this is it.
It requires skill to envelop subject matter that could potentially be labeled trite and make it just explode with unbridled sincerity. It's an existential record that talks about being existential. The songs about the fire dying, saying yes to life, knowing your time is short, it’s clear an embroiling life crisis has just been overcome. This kind of thing has been done before, to varying degrees of success. If the result of walking out of the fire of crisis sounds like this, then damn it, I want to experience one, for nothing else than to heroically emerge from it. If the heart of redemption is through a song, this is the appropriate example, the rock album of the year, and one of the most impactful to emerge in some time.