Since 2012, Sydney’s Gang Of Youths have been a somewhat elusive figure in the Australian music scene, slowly circling and stalking, ducking out of view and creeping back in, waiting for just the right time to unleash all they’ve got upon us. And that time is now.
Gang Of Youths have created a beautifully powerful and intense collection of songs on their debut The Positions.
Although they have a relatively short career behind them and even shorter discography, the band have done some staggering things. With only a few singles (or “demos”) under their belt GOY have toured with Vampire Weekend, Smith Westerns, Sky Ferreira, Frightened Rabbit, The Jezabels and Cloud Control, while also selling out their own live shows at places like Oxford Art Factory (which is no small task for a band who haven’t even released an EP). They have received nods from FBi and Triple J with singles like Riverlands and Evangalists being put on rotation by both stations, and have been smashed on heavyweight US indie radio stations like KEXP and KCRW.
Despite all this it feels like Gang Of Youths have been somewhat obscured from view, by God or their label or whoever, being let out at just the right time to remind us they are still there but are not quite ready to explode yet. That was until last week when, in typical GOY fashion, they dropped their sprawling new single Radioface, performed an original and a cover on triple J’s Like A Version, and announced the release of their debut record all within three days. And finally it feels like Gang Of Youths are set to explode.
The Positions is, in many ways, a pop record. It’s being released on a major label (Sony), the production is neat, tight and meticulously executed, the songs are littered with pop hooks and melodies, and all in all the tracks aren’t pushing creative boundaries in any massive way. But at the same time these aren’t three-minute pop nuggets ready to be consumed and shit out to make room for the next greasy batch. There is an ocean of depth in The Positions that makes it a record that means a whole lot more than it’s pop sensibilities may suggest.
Album opener, Vital Signs sets the tone for the record perfectly. Like many of the tracks to follow it’s a smouldering slow burner, clocking in at 7:25 with its rolling drums and anthemic guitar/synth lines building around vocals that shift from a drawl to a growl to a bellow with tortured erraticism. Gang Of Youths are masters of loud-soft dynamics reminiscent of the softer moments of The Smashing Pumpkins’ back catalogue, but rather than using the wall-of-fuzz guitars that Billy Corgan agonised over, they blend together layers of guitars, synths, percussion and chanting vocals in a beautifully epic mass of noise.
The band have spent a fair bit of time in the States over the past couple of years, playing shows at SXSW and CMJ, in LA and NYC, and recording most of The Positions with Kevin McMahon (Swans, Real Estate, The Walkmen) in upstate New York – all which have left unmistakable traces of Americana throughout the record. FBi once said that “If Springsteen was a teenager in 2013 he’d have started Gang Of Youths,” and in 2015 this still rings true. Tracks like The Diving Bell and Magnolia are 80s power anthems that have been thrust into future, sometimes threatening to trip over that fine line between sincerity and corniness. Magnolia is the closest the album gets to falling down this dangerous rabbit hole with its 80s rock pastiche of soaring synths, bopping drums and that well-worn lyric “kick some ass.” It seems like an unnecessary imitation of lesser artists, done by a band that have been doing the power-rock thing with determined originality since starting out. Thankfully on The Positions it’s a one-time thing.
Tracks like Kansas and Knuckles White Dry pump the brakes on the driving instrumentation, taking a stripped-back ballad approach, allowing front-man Dave Le’aupepe’s considerable talents in poetic lyricism (despite the “kick some ass” quip) and his hugely impressive vocal range to shine through. There’s no denying he’s an awesome singer, if his style is your kind of dig. The man is a swirling pool of sentiment and luckily for us he is armed with the right tools to be able to express it all. Whether he is growling or crooning, his depth of emotion is pretty inescapable, even if expressions of ‘feelings’ usually want to make you vomit.
GOY really hit their stride on tracks like Radioface and Restraint & Release where it’s obvious the whole band are a stretching their legs. Le’aupepe’s tongue lashes with epic lines like “We are infinite” or “I’m not bending/Nor will I equivocate,” the drums and bass lock together tightly with relentless intensity, and the guitars and synths morph and sear around each other sounding like they could be either or. Producer Kevin McMahon has done a great job reining masses of sounds and textures into a neat package (probably owing to his time spent working with Swans). The vocals are the obvious centre-piece for most of the tracks but the instrumentation is never diluted for this sake.
On The Positions Gang of Youths seem to have done what The Temper Trap did a few years back with Conditions. They have made a record that will be devoured by alternative, community and mainstream radio alike. They have made a killer pop record with just the right amount of intensity, grit, darkness and depth of character to capture the attention of the most avid devourers of music. At 60 minutes, the album averages out at almost six-minutes per track. Not many pop bands would have the balls to even suggest such a thing, especially for a debut record, but not many bands wield the skills to execute such an album so deftly. The Positions feels oddly familiar, instantly relatable and powerful just the way Springsteen would have done if he were writing his first record today; and who doesn’t love The Boss.
You can pre-order The Positions at the Gang of Youths website.
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