Depending on which country he’s in, Dave Le’aupepe might be regarded by passersby as a full-fledged rock star, a mid-level indie musician, or a total unknown. At the moment, as the 25-year-old Australian talks passionately about his band Gang Of Youths to an American music critic over a bad cell phone connection from a furniture store in London, Le’aupepe exists at the midpoint between stardom and obscurity.
Back home, he’s a big deal, with a recent No. 1 record and eight ARIA nominations (the Aussie version of the Grammys) earlier this month affirming Le’aupepe’s regional reputation as one of rock’s best young singer-songwriters. In the United States, however, Le’aupepe and Gang Of Youths definitely falls on the “unknown” end of the spectrum. While the band’s stirring sophomore effort, Go Farther In Lightness, has battled the likes of Ed Sheeran and Queens Of The Stone Age for supremacy at the top of the Australian charts, the album hasn’t even been reviewed by most music publications and websites stateside.
This is a real shame, because Go Farther In Lightness deserves to be ranked with the very finest rock albums of 2017, no matter the country. Released in August — in the midst of ho-hum duds by North American arena-rock acts such as Arcade Fire and Foo Fighters — Go Farther In Lightness stands as one of the year’s most exhilarating “big” guitar-rock albums, delivering anthem after heart-busting anthem with a potent combination of instrumental muscle, lyrical insight, and Le’aupepe’s impassioned vocals.
But the grandiosity of Go Farther In Lightness extends beyond just the expansive tracklist, which clocks in at nearly 80 minutes over 16 songs. It is also baked directly into Gang Of Youth’s aesthetic, which balances furiously uplifting basement-show ragers like “What Can I Do If A Fire Goes Out?,” one of the year’s best and most immediate rock singles, with orchestral flourishes like “Achilles Comes Down,” a stunning “Eleanor Rigby”-style ballad scored for a string quartet by Le’aupepe himself.
The grand music suits Le’aupepe’s sweeping lyrics, which weigh heavy philosophical questions about the meaning of life, death, and conservative icon Ayn Rand, whom he despises, among other topics. When asked about the influences on Go Farther In Lightness in a recent interview, Le’aupepe listed a virtual syllabus: Martin Heidegger’s Being And Time, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being by Milan Kundera, lots of Nietzsche.