You’ve seen the billboards, you’ve watched the teasers, you may have even called the 1800 number to complete the package. Yes, new music from Gang of Youths is on the way – nearly four years after their world-conquering second album, Go Farther in Lightness. A lot has changed in the world of the band since that record came out – they relocated to London, lead guitarist Joji Malani exited the fold and former Noah & The Whale multi-instrumentalist Tom Hobden entered the picture. Anything else? Throw in a mass of sold-out shows, festival appearances, ARIA Awards, Hottest 100 placements and arena supports for the likes of Foo Fighters and Mumford & Sons. It’s a lot to take in, naturally – which is why, lockdown regardless, the band have taken their time to reemerge.
With ‘The Angel of 8th. Ave’ on the horizon, it’s an opportune time to revisit some of the band’s key cuts thus far – either as a timely reminder of one of Australia’s greatest hopes in contemporary music or as a quick catch-up guide for those that either missed or didn’t get their astronomical ascent to begin with. Either way, it’s a win-win situation.
1. ‘Vital Signs’, The Positions (2015)
The most logical entryway into the band’s body of work is side-one, track-one on their debut studio album. ‘Vital Signs’ is a song of lofty ambition and direct intent – two elements of the band’s music that will go on to become well-established motifs. The song burns slowly but brightly, driven by a drop-D guitar lick and marching drums as a glockenspiel glistens atop its lyrical turmoil between hope and despair. By the time it bowls over into a wash of woah-ohs and an explosive double-time dash to the proverbial finish line, Gang of Youths have well and truly arrived.
2. ‘The Overpass’, The Positions (2015)
Let’s cross now to the end of The Positions for what has become one of the band’s most under-appreciated efforts. Its stark blend of low-end cello and arpeggio synthesizer lays down remorseful textures, with high-end guitar reverb serving as a lone shining light off in the distance. This, too, plays into one of David Le’aupepe’s most aching, Springsteen-esque choruses: “I don’t have a coat/And we don’t have a car/But honey, if you’re patient/The city isn’t far.” It’s a song of time and place, light and dark, desperation and hope. It wanders, headlong into the abyss, on a quest for answers.
3. ‘Strange Diseases’, Let Me Be Clear (2016)
For all intents and purposes, ‘Strange Diseases’ is Gang of Youths’ first in-earnest attempt at a baroque rock song. In other words, the string section serves as the centrepiece of the song rather than an additional flourish – think of it like Electric Light Orchestra with a bit more millennial attitude to it all. Its wordless refrain is one of the more inherently accessible the band have ever committed to record, and having a swell of violins melodically mirror it note for note is a proper stroke of compositional genius. Also of note: Le’aupepe’s exasperated “HEY!” in the first verse.
4. ‘Benevolence Riots’, Benevolence Riots (2014)
Of course, Gang of Youths’ king-size ambitions predate The Positions – if their pre-album singles indicated anything, it’s how prepared the band were for a steady ascent to the top of the food chain. Although more of a straightforward rock song on the surface, ‘Benevolence Riots’ also serves as an early insight into Le’aupepe as an imagery-driven provocateur. The crunch of the guitars bristle against a lyric sheet detailing “a get-out-of-jail-free card in the eyes of God,” before swinging its way into a defiant, rousing chorus. It’s not fully-realised potential but said potential is simply too great to ignore.
5. ‘What Can I Do if the Fire Goes Out?’, Go Farther in Lightness (2017)
In a manner antithetical to its title, this propulsive cut from the band’s platinum-selling second record arrives in a pipe-bomb of fire and brimstone. The guitars churn and snarl, while the buzz-saw strings soar in like a flight of bumblebees. Charging up the rear is drummer Donnie Borzestowski, who earns man-of-the-match status with his stick-breaking flurry that’s equal parts drum-and-bass, punk and arena rock. As a crisis of faith unravels amidst the maelstrom, the urgency builds to a point of total exhaustion.
6. ‘The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows’, Go Farther in Lightness (2017)
In this song’s music video, Le’aupepe spends most of it absolutely legging it. You can still very much enjoy the track without its clip – they’re not OK Go or anything – but that additional frenetic pacing really assists in it all taking flight the way that it does. Another resplendent single from an album that seemingly has them on tap, ‘The Deepest Sighs’ weaves bookworm intellectualism with the beaten chest of someone who’s seen a million faces and rocked them all. It’s borderline archetypal: the most Gang of Youths song by Gang of Youths to ever Gang of Youths.
7. ‘Kansas’, The Positions (2015)
Having discussed The Positions‘ opening and closing moments, ‘Kansas’ sees us take up with the album’s literal centrepiece. While much of this list has focused upon – and, indeed, praised – the band’s penchant for maximalism, it’s also worth noting their power when everything is collectively stripped to the bare bones. Exhibit A: ‘Kansas’, which has been known to send even the rowdiest of the band’s audiences into reverential silence. Part Wizard of Oz escapism, part harsh reality, the song’s sombre cello-lead arrangement makes for one of the more stirring parts of a discography that’s never short on unbridled emotion.
8. ‘Let Me Down Easy’, Go Farther in Lightness (2017)
Of course, of course, of course. What has gone on to be the band’s signature song was as inevitable a feature on this list as it was on the 2017 Hottest 100 – where it ended up being the silver medalist, mind you.
It also cannot escape the links of visual accompaniment – in this case, the hip swivel heard ’round the world in the video filmed at the band’s now-iconic Splendour in the Grass set. Plus, it’s the only Gang of Youths song to drop both Journey and Whitesnake references. Oh, and the word “solipsism.” Need more be said?
9. ‘Say Yes to Life’, Go Farther in Lightness (2017)
Gang of Youths ended their first album battered, broken and beaten down upon facing unspeakable tragedy and turmoil. One thing they never were, though, is entirely defeated. Their second album saw even more hardships come their way, but they still stood tall, defiantly, at the end of it – as if to say, “is that all you got?”
The closing song of Go Farther in Lightness has become a phrase synonymous with the band and its fans – a mantra that is a testament to the band’s resilience, vitality and universality. By extension, the song itself serves the same purpose.
10. ‘Magnolia’, The Positions (2015)
June 3 is Magnolia Day, to commemorate a day when Le’aupepe could have ended his life but was ultimately pulled back from the brink. It is committed to record, forever, with its titular song, where Jung Kim’s synth strings and jaunty piano playing add a hop, skip and jump to tragic circumstance. The song may playfully shake its arse and flip you the bird, but it’s hiding something much darker beneath it. Still, there is a crack in ‘Magnolia’ where the light gets in. This song has to be here because Gang of Youths literally do not exist without it.
Gang Of Youth’s new song ‘The Angel Of 8th Ave.’ will arrive at 2am AEST on Wednesday, 16th June.
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