Music Review: Gang of Youths – The Positions
Sydney’s Gang of Youth’s debut LP, The Positions, probably isn’t what you’d expect of the group. The album chronicles frontman David Le’aupepe’s relationship with a woman who had a terminal illness, and his thoughts and feelings towards it. Combining elements of 90s pop and folk-rock with a heavily rhythmic approach, the group has created an album with a story, and importantly, with significant emotions and thoughts circulating throughout it.
Opening with the highlight, “Vital Signs”, the album kicks off in a brief ambient haze before the drums and matching guitar line guide us into the song’s centrepiece: the lyrics. Indeed, the vocals are the nucleus from which many of the songs attain their orbit. They are often the sole melody, and thankfully, Le’aupepe proves his worth, with performances ranging from moody and atmospheric to outright frustrated. It’s this easy symbiosis between singer and his band that proves so effective in gaining a recognition of the album.
The band seems to understand this dynamic well – there are two songs that are simple progressions that hone the focus solely on the vocals. “Kansas” and “Knuckles White Dry” are two of the album highlights, with the latter feeling as exposed as an open wound, and the prior feeling confused, like Le’aupepe can’t find his way out of the song. It also highlights the geographical shift of Gang of Youths from Sydney to Nashville, USA. The whole album rings with a similar visual palette; of dusty roads and the hot Western sun. These moments see the group embrace their admitted Bruce Springsteen influence even more so, albeit with the distanced perspective of a stranger in the land. You can take the boys away from the VB, but you can’t take the VB out of the boys.
While every song on the album has been crafted with a meticulous attention to detail, it is the larger framework that ultimately proves to be contentious. Depending on your level of involvement and investment with the album, the tracklist will either successfully convey the story of Le’aupepe’s relationship and how much it subsequently fucked him up – or you’ll either be bored by how it divides the record into two distinct halves: all of the upbeat, more pop-inclined songs comprise the first half of the album, while all of the slower and more wondering songs are on the second half. Before I knew what the album was about, I was put off by the sequencing of the songs; when listening to it afterwards, there were certain moments that were too hard to ignore: “If I hear another ‘I love you’, ‘Get well’/from someone we don’t know or that I didn’t tell/I swear that I’ll show them a vision of hell/It gets tiresome, you know.” It’s one of many breathtaking moments from the waltz of “Knuckles White Dry”, which acts as the album’s climax. There are other moments of potent honesty, though you have to be listening to hear them.
Gang of Youths have truly exceeded expectations on this record. While their profile in the various media is sarcastic at best, on The Positions, they took the risk of opening themselves up emotionally – specifically David Le’aupepe, whose vocals and lyrics were often too effective; it’s easy to get the feeling that he means exactly what he says, and that he’s describing reality instead of fiction in some of the album’s darker moments. However, it’s a feat in and of itself that the album can bring a listener to care so much. From the rousing and tingling opening to the exhausted and resigned close, The Positions was best described by the band themselves: “EMOTIONAL-ASS, 10-TRACK CONCEPT ROCK”.
Album Highlights: “Vital Signs”, “Radioface”, “Kansas” and “Knuckles White Dry”
The Positions is released on April 17 and a limited Two-Disc Deluxe Edition can be pre-ordered only from JB Hi-Fi.
Review by Adrian Pedić.