Exactly a month ago, London-via-Sydney legends Gang Of Youths gave us brief solace from the world, returning after four long years with their stunning single “the angel of 8th ave”. It soared and it swelled when it needed to, but still made space for frontman Dave Le’aupepe’s singular, brooding voice to work its magic. While the dust has barely settled from “the angel of 8th ave”, today – Friday 15th July – Gang Of Youths are back again with an entire EP.
So to not give you total whiplash, “the angel of 8th ave.” opens up total serene. Those warm guitars and steady drums open the door for you as the cold swirls outside, with Le’aupepe delivering an ode to his lover with almost reckless abandon. He traverses an entire spectrum of his love, from the chanting of “there’s heaven in you now” to the gratitude of helping him through the loss of his father – “When my old man was near to the end/You loved his broken body the same way I did”.
The other new song from the MTV Unplugged alum that appears on total serene is titled “unison”, and it might be the most pivotal song we’ve heard from the band in years. Le’aupepe has often foreshadowed that this new era of Gang Of Youths would be a sonic departure from what fans might be used to – with “the angel of 8th ave.” being an exception. In “unison”, they don’t completely abandon the sounds of old but it is built with finesse and delicacy that we haven’t seen from them since 2017’s “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane”, if at all. Usually, the band is less focused on meticulousness, instead driven by unleashing passion in powerful, riff-heavy catharsis.
Power and catharsis exists in “unison”, but in an entirely new fashion. Instead of riffs, the band have sampled the work of David Fanshawe and his influential documentation of Indigenous Pacific sounds. The song ebbs and sways – Le’aupepe’s husky voice leading us through uncharted territory – before blooming into an entrancing fusion of acoustic guitar and cosy brass. In the song’s colourful conclusion, Le’aupepe’s voice blends seamlessly into reverent chorus as guitar, brass and strings flash vividly around him.
The choice to sample Fanshawe’s work with Indigenous Pacific music was not a random one – Le’aupepe himself is Samoan, and Samoa is where the song itself was conceived.
“(It’s) a deeply important track for us that really signals where the music is headed on the new record,” Le’aupepe said in a press statement.
“I conceived the song in Samoa, my ancestral homeland. Here we sample and introduce the work of David Fanshawe, who travelled to the Pacific Islands in the 1980s and recorded the most extensive library of indigenous Pacific music anywhere in the world.”
And, while “unison” gives us a taste of where Gang Of Youths are headed, the centrepiece of the EP – a cover of Elbow’s early 00’s classic “asleep in the back” – is a homage to where they’ve come from. Once again, it's more tender and fragile than anything else, with Le’aupepe giving an airy and hushed performance in parts. Despite changing the song very little, Gang Of Youths still make it feel brand new with little more than a glossy overcoat. Much like “unison”, the brass beams of gold and the strings are lush, making v another perfect bridge for the band to lead us across into their new sound; the new stage of their enthralling evolution.
Sure, total serene isn’t an album, and the tease of what’s to come might be too much for fans to satiate. But, after four years of absence, three new Gang Of Youths songs in the space of a month is exciting. One of Australia’s most-loved bands is back, and their eyes are sparkling.
Listen to Gang Of Youth’s 2021 EP, total serene, just below.