Review Summary: a symphony of heartstringsHey. Are you busy? Sorry, you proba- I'll stop calling if you are. Been doing it a lot. Calling, I mean. Though you probably don't even know cos this is the first time I've worked up the courage to actually leave you a message, ha. Sorry, you must be busy, and sick of my shit. I'm sick of it too, but I'm just so tired of keeping pace with my own thoughts and quadruple checking every fucking decision I make cos I can't trust myself these days. That's not why I called though. I don't really know why. There's this new album, it feels like I've known it forever already, but there's this new album I like. Maybe love. I thought you might like it too. We used to like the same things, right?
How do you tell someone you love that they're going to die? That's a question The Positions
had to pose, and it did so brutally and with little fanfare, corkscrew guitars spewing forth Dave Le'aupepe's venomous indictments of, well pretty much everything. That is, including the sun: the sun which shone down the UV radiation which damaged the genetic material of the cells which led to his ex-girlfriend's cancer diagnosis. How do you convince yourself that you're going to live? Go Farther in Lightness
is tasked with answering this question, or at least with finding a convincing way to ask it, and it sets out to do so with reckless abandon. The guitars chime out with clarity and optimism, full-blown orchestras follow behind Dave at every step as he paces to and forth from the recording studio on muggy Sydney nights, and his voice reaches further and further into the higher reaches of his range like he's searching for God in vocal melodies alone. That album title is void of hyperbole or unwarranted sentimentality; it's the bare truth, shivering and sore and bloody, but ready to stand up and start fighting for the strength to take those first steps forward.
Le'aupepe's search for meaning befits an album the size of Go Farther In Lightness
, which contains within an entire universe, vast and magnanimous. From "Fear and Trembling" to "Say Yes To Life" (two beautifully considered bookends, in both title and thematic symmetry) this album is a freeway drive in a battered van. That vehicle has been fucking battered within an inch of its life, but it trudges on, muscles burning, tires left in scorched patches of rubber on the road behind it. Gang of Youths have decided to shoulder a burden from point A to point B: Go Farther
, faith pointed inward, obsessed with life, is entirely contingent on The Positions
, which tiptoed around (or maybe towards?) death without filter or the welfare that time proffers. Yep, this is an inchoate band carrying life and death, angel and devil, with the strength and aplomb of one that has experienced both. Somehow they've lived to recount the lessons learned. What's most important -- to me, especially -- is that this record is, unequivocally, an emotional experience. The latter half is upheld by strings that spread themselves across the spectrum of sentiments and I feel everything at once: elation, melancholy, apprehension, determination; the future, the past – it's all here, distilled and repackaged for arenas.
It's an emotional experience because it insists on providing a response to moments of uncertainty; it draws up blueprints for the future instead of pacing around the waiting room. The planning, the purpose, the urgency -- it's all immediately obvious in the music, which is a concept often understated in its importance. Persistence is key in "The Heart Is A Muscle" and, as the drums kick in, the performance (both vocally and instrumentally) is galvanized, transformed into something at once determined and optimistic. There's a massive range of sounds here, if only to ensure beyond the shadow of a doubt that the fire never goes out. Staccato strings dominate "Let Me Down Easy", a decidedly linear alt-rock song, and "Atlas Drowned" stays awash in abrasive guitar chords as Le'aupepe climbs the rungs of his own political tirade. Then seventy-seven minutes ends up feeling like seventeen and those strings are still bouncing around the walls of your skull, and you finally tear your eyes away from your feet and...
Me again. I've been listening to that album a lot. There's this one song, about Achilles, it sounds like a movie soundtrack, except to the most depressing movie ever. Imagine if Morrissey and Hans Zimmer wrote a song together... sounds like the start of the weirdest romcom ever, haha. Remember when we used to dream up movies together? Maybe you don't. I want this dude to sing me to sleep every single night for the rest of my life, honestly! hah, except maybe only the last few songs on here. Everything else makes me too sad when I listen to it. How are you? Can I do anything to... can you call me when you get this?
Growing up, my wooden pews were retractable chairs with butter-stained linings. The altar, a blank and boxy stage with white tape running the edges. My stained glass windows came in the form of a patchy projection screen; cinema 10 was where church happened. I have no elegy of sorrow to attach to my reaction to Go Farther In Lightness
. There was something about the questions being asked in "What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?" that mollified my watchful eyes and rendered me somewhat dazed, however. Confidence in my Christian faith was something I never questioned growing up because I was encircled by light. The dingy musk of the theater and occasional crunch of missed foodstuffs being crushed underfoot could do nothing to combat the cordial atmosphere lovingly thrust upon me by anyone and everyone in the building. I can't be completely certain whether or not Le'aupepe's persistent questioning is directed entirely at the band's congregational origin, but even if it isn't, there is comfort in knowing that Gang of Youths are willing to push uncertainty into the forefront.
'What can I do if the fire goes out?/'Cause I don't know if I can live without.'
The acceptance of making the most of here and now might be evident in the album's grandiose finale, but it is the relatively simple and alarmingly wide questions that Gang of Youths ask without hesitance up until this point that really caught me off guard. Through introspection, and experience, and pain, and love, Gang of Youths say yes to life. Maybe it is about time I stopped missing out on human things, and took the time to taste and see that the lord is good...
Okay, so you know how last time I said I wanted this dude to sing me to sleep every night? Well he has been, for the last week or so. It's been the only constant... y'know, apart from this one-sided conversation and the old classic - cereal alone at midnight. But yeah. I don't think I'm gonna go to uni anymore. I know it's wrong, but the place is too huge and the people are too distant; I can't deal anymore. Remember when we first started? That first couple of months? Stuck together like a DJ duo, Springsteen spilling from the car windows as we rocked up to campus. If I'm honest, this record is super Springsteen, but I digress. You probably won't hear from me again. You might be happy about that. I just want you to know that you were always important to me, and that I'm sorry I pushed you away when I shoulda kept you close. Have a nice... whatever.
Rowan, Part II:
An hour-plus concept record about the aftershocks of a cancer diagnosis, a baby's passing and depression could easily come off as macabre or punishing. What's amazing, then, is how open and free Go Farther
constantly feels. "Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane", a real gut-punch of a dream narrative, is upheld by an effervescent cloud of organ and strings; the sly post-punk groove of "Let Me Down Easy" eases us into the more positive part of the record with some Berninger-esque humour - 'I got solipsism, baby, and I brought lemonade'
. No-one else can cleverly fracture an emotional narrative with sly, understated jokes quite like Le'aupepe can - on "Persevere" there's a 'to the window, to the wall'
reference minutes after the lines 'cos nothing tuned me in to absurdity as fast/as a gravestone with the name of a baby that has passed'
, for fuck's sake. In "Achilles Come Down", Dave reimagines himself as a suicidal Achilles up on the roof, like some self-deprecating time bomb hybrid of Morrissey's razor wit and Nick Cave's vulgar adaptations of classical literature. The seven-minute magnum opus spins out as a tug-of-war between the voice of reason and the thoughts telling him to end it, the life we fight for every day and the place we slip back to when we lose. So just go farther, a little each day, or don't – your life is not a character arc, you don't have to leave space for commercial breaks and mid-season cliffhangers as you fight to get better. And to climb out of that gutter you first have to be looking up out of it.
Alright. You know what? Fuck this. I'm giving up. I'm calling it now. You're never gonna answer. This red light on my machine is probably dead from lack of use. I'm done waiting for a call, cos I'm done waiting for anything. For everything. I can't wait for the world to start paying its debt to me anymore. So... I'm coming over. Let's go get bad Maccas coffee and drive around the mountains in the freezing cold and eat burgers on the railing. Let's go watch the emo kids drink V so we can blast this album at them from the car and drive away laughing. Let's stand in the darkness and laugh with our heel on its throat (I took that one from the singer, I hope he doesn't mind, fuckin' great line though, right?). Screw it. I'm done saying things I don't follow through on. Leaving now. Get something good to play on the aux. I love you.
Jack, Part II:
...Hours have passed since my last paragraph was written, and I report back with news indicative of this record's staying/stopping power. A friend of mine, absolved from his social responsibilities for the night, sends me the payoff to my endless proselytizing on this band's behalf: "Dude", he texts, "Gang of Youths is pretty much the band I needed right now". To which I respond, "When have I ever let you down?" It's worth noting at this point, I think, that The Positions
didn't rouse any affection from said friend. As I discussed the new record with him the other day, he insisted, quite brusquely, that he refused to acquiesce to the band's grandiosity ("We get it, you can write a massive hook"). But now, under the weight of a shitty "last few hours" he reports back with a newfound appreciation...
"Honestly, like they fill me with hope."
I hate to say 'I told you so', Jared, but: I told you so.