Before you listen to The Positions, Sydney indie rockers Gang of Youths’ debut album, just check a few things about yourself. Are you in a good place right now? Do you have a supportive friend’s phone number close at hand? Is your mascara waterproof? These are all important questions to ask first, because you’re about to dive headfirst into a grief few people can understand and a story that will invariably change your perception of the album. Vocalist Dave Le’aupepe does not hold back, opening a door many would keep shut tight and bringing us into the turmoil, frustration, heartbreak and desperate hope that hallmarks the pain of a young life lost.
From a bleak world of hospital waiting rooms and stark realities, The Positions is a beacon of battle and revelation, written to chronicle and comprehend Dave Le’aupepe’s four year relationship with a woman fighting terminal cancer. When in “Sjamboska” Dave pleads “I will hold on to you. Hold on to me”, it charges the pit of your stomach and twists a twinge in your chest. The album was written, recorded and released over three years and two continents, with input from producer Kevin McMahon of Frightened Rabbit and Titus Andronicus heightened by Le’aupepe’s perfectionism. This drive to create something poetic and grand came from a place of just “wanting to make something I didn’t hate”. The result is large and wrecking, a discovery of beauty and hope in dire circumstances.
These are long tracks, well-drawn and heavily structured. The album is topped and tailed by “Vital Signs” and “The Overpass” at a cool seven and a half minutes each, both stretching their openings and playing with percussive, atmospheric introductions. “Poison Drum”, the lead single from the album, is a mere six and half minutes, but with a punch and drive that manages to stay sustained throughout. “Poison Drum” is an escape track, music to be sung along to on a road trip while you belt the side of the car through your open window. The nineties-grunge leanings of Gang of Youths is offset by more complex instrumentation, adding depth where there could otherwise just be scratch. That voice is the right amount of husk, sex and earnestness that balances between belters like “Poison Drum” and heartbreaking stand out “Knuckles White Dry”. Mid-album the instruments get a shake up with a heavy use of strings and snyth, and “Knuckles White Dry” taking the listener by surprise with a clangy piano accompanied only with the mellow rasp of Le’aupepe.
The long track durations can set the album up to follow a similar structure for each song. In most you can identify the slow start, crashing bridge, and softening finale that draws the tracks from a four minute piece to the six and seven minutes that are the norm for Gang of Youths. By the end of the album the direction of “The Overpass” is predictable, from building cries of the chorus to the straining strings a solemn finish . Does this detract from the fact it is a good song, heartfelt and rich? Of course not. This is an album you come to know quickly, intimate from the outset and instantly familiar. Dave Le’aupepe has laid it all on the table, the gutwrenching origins of the album laid bare, honest and vulnerable as an open wound.
“The Positions” is out today.
Gang of Youths are touring from May 15, see tour dates here