GANG OF YOUTHS
Go Farther In Lightness (Sony)
Oh my, this is very, very good. Genuinely impressive, honestly uplifting and invigorating rock and roll, and a testimony to music made from traditions, with no effort to hide either those traditions or the close attention to them.
And that openness is no small thing because there is not any big secret to the basis of an album such as Go Father In Lightness; it’s not like we haven’t seen it, oh, once or twice before.
Pick out the names and you could go on for days on its multiple variations: Springsteen, The National, (moments of) Caroline Rose, Holy Holy, (some) Arcade Fire, Gaslight Anthem, Birds Of Tokyo, Danny George Wilson ….
It will generally have a husky voice (male or female, though historically it has leant male of course) but even if it doesn’t it’s a voice which conveys intensity and intent in even the simplest of lines. This matters, is the message, you know it in your guts. You matter, it reminds us, even if you have come to doubt it.
Those lines will concern themselves with topics – personal and societal politics; work; dignity; faith in something or someone; surviving - which can be boiled down to some key packages. There’s reminiscences of youth when certainty beckoned on every horizon but uncertainty ruled on every corner, and there’s the fact that love feels like it will solve every problem until it burns on the same fire as the rest of them, before somehow still saving a part of your soul.
In most songs verses will be at slow two medium tempos that break out in the choruses which swell your heart as much as your vocal cords. Piano and organ will not be outgunned by guitars, drums will not be tricky, strings and brass will come in at times for that little flourish.
It is knowing all this, recognising all this, in Gang Of Youths, and yet still being swept up in it, still feeling touched and moved and galvanised by it, that tells you just how good are the songs and the execution on their second album.
Songwriter/singer David Le-aupepe is not the wracked soul, ripped into pieces by the choices – good and bad - he’d made as a young man, who we saw on GoY’s debut, The Positions.
You wouldn’t call him exactly happy or settled but in most of these songs he is exploring the potential of a remedy for errors, the possibility of believing in others while building trust in himself. This is the chance to go further, not in darkness or while weighed down, but in lightness that is bearable.
His lyrics are thick on the ground, unafraid of cramming words into lines to ram that part home – and cramming 16 songs onto the album. Happy too to spill literary, philosophical and pop cultural references (multiples of them in the lingering effects of trust and self-awareness in Achilles Come Down), but also flashes of wry humour: “I’ve got solipsism baby, and I’ve brought lemonade”.
And let’s not miss that subtext of an album title taken in part from Milan Kundera: Le-aupepe isn’t pretending this is the end of the answer – for him or you - but it’s the end of the beginning of the search for the answer.
That’s the point of the hope in Keep Me In The Open (the most The National song here in its low-impact rhythm and contained climax) as much as the more direct message in Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane (the second-most The National song).
And it’s the unspoken drive in the cascading rock of Atlas Drowned, which channels Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon effortlessly, as much as in the lightened heart inside Let Me Down Easy’s pop and the impassioned exultation of Say Yes To Life.
That last song may be self-explanatory by the end of the album, but Go Farther In Lightness is a lesson – musical, lyrical, emotional - in not being afraid to go down a path already trodden if you can find a way to make it mean something anew.