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Most musicians have a few songs left on the cutting room floor after writing or recording an album. Unlike most, though, Gang of Youths haven’t abandoned these tracks (or saved them for some 30-year anniversary diamond edition). Instead, the Sydney quintet has polished ‘em up and compiled them on their latest EP Let Me Be Clear for your listening pleasure.
A collection of six tracks, the EP is mostly made up of songs that were originally written for the insanely successful 2015 album The Positions. Apparently they didn’t fit the debut’s story arc, though, which followed front man David Le’aupepe’s broken marriage, his ex-wife’s struggle with cancer, his suicide attempt in 2014 and subsequent sobriety. While the new EP doesn’t tread the exact same narrative, Le’aupepe’s laments are still of heartbreak, hope and finding beauty in the banal.
Written before the breakdown of his marriage, the album is very much a collection of sombre love songs that don’t exude the same fiery frustrations as The Positions. Describing it as a bookend to his early twenties, Let Me Be Clear acts as a form of closure to the last five or so years of Le’aupepe’s life.
Opening with The Good Fight, the six and a half-minute track builds with bare vocals and delicate piano before exploding in a crescendo of heart wrenching strings. The track takes an unexpected turn around the four-minute mark, when the tranquillity is replaced by rapid guitar riffs and Dave expelling insanely fast and almost incomprehensible yells.
Native Tongue opens with the sound of kids yelling colourful profanities in the playground before kicking into a powerful guitar riff. While it’s one of the more upbeat-sounding tracks on the album, you can still hear layers of anger underneath. “Though they told me they’d tell you I loved you. I said ‘fuck you and I’ll tell her myself!’,” Le’aupepe yells .
Strange Diseases is the first single from the EP and sees the return of those orchestral arrangements that’ll play a slap bass on your heart strings. Combine that with a euphoric chorus of vocals, intricate guitar work and the atmospheric power of Dave’s signature vocals and you’ve got yourself a hauntingly compelling belter. On A Sudden Light Dave’s voice leaps from a breathy croon to smooth-as-hell yells with apparent ease over booming percussion and tinkling keys.
Still Unbeaten Life strips the album back even further, woven with delicate guitar chords, raw vocals and clear horns. It’s also another tear-jerker, the matter-of-a-fact lyrics speaking of fighting against the odds of disease. “Let every breath in you fight whatever’s pulling you to die…You’re dead on paper, but hey, we’re still here,” he sings.
After five extremely intimate tracks, Let Me Be Clear closes with a striking cover of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. While it might seem strange for Gang of Youths to include a cover with such a personal collection of songs, Le’aupepe uses Mitchell’s words to articulate reflections on love and loss in ways that he can’t.
There might not be a Magnolia-sized banger on the EP, but Let Me Be Clear is a hauntingly beautiful body of work that you’ll be glad wasn’t left on that cutting room floor.