Music Reviews
angel in realtime.

Gang of Youths angel in realtime.

(Warner Music UK Limited) Rating - 7/10

Gang of Youths seem like an anachronism in a time when major labels are busy scouting the next big genre-defying bedroom pop sound. Similar to their modern counterparts The War on Drugs, the London-based via Sydney group wear their pomp brightly. The sweeping splendor of which they operate recalls the golden age of the L.A. studio scene during the 80s, an era where savvy producers could smell a hit a mile away and place their bets hoping to score the next big success story. And though the days of charting high on album-oriented radio are far from over, it's still an opportune time for larger-than-life artists to make a significant impact when navigating modest-sized theaters around the globe.

With their ambitions at their most pure, Gang of Youths holds a remarkable story that far outweighs the shallowness of corporate rock. Each of the five band members comes from a diverse background, fronted by Samoan and Austrian-Jewish descendant David Le'aupepe, who often explores themes of ancestry and race in his music. So behind their grand gestures, there's a level of depth to Le'aupepe's stories that feel both earned and empowering. In recent years, there have been a couple of attempts from bands that temper heart-on-sleeve sincerity behind shrewd anthems—whether it's the bold resilience of Frightened Rabbit or the sophisticated orchestral flourishes of Elbow. But Le'aupepe and cohorts are never coy in taking it up a notch, delivering high-minded songs that befit their current status as award-winning superstars in their home country.

Angel in Realtime. was predominantly a self-produced effort, though nothing about the band's lush textured sonics and string accompaniments gives the impression that they completed it on the cheap. It sounds quite the opposite, really, and even the most casual listen to the album's first track, you in everything, makes it loud and clear. “I will feel you in everything,” Le'aupepe pleas during its spectral chorus, singing in a conversational tone that recalls Bruce Springsteen and Bono. That might seem like a tall order, but Le'aupepe is a natural-born performer, and on in the wake of your leave, he lets his powerfully rough-hewn register out to the rafters along with pulsing, energetic melodic hooks. Le'aupepe is at his most earnestly zealous on returner, embracing rock-star posturing at its fullest with a likable demeanor: “I'm not in it for the glory/I'm not in it for the friends with the form of the fame.” If it wasn’t any more obvious, he was born to do this shit.

But behind every pompous and majestic arrangement, angel in realtime. does have an underlying theme that colors Le'aupepe's passionate performances and lovable cursing: the story of his complicated father, who passed away in 2018. It was only after his passing that he was able to unearth many of his dad’s secrets, which he details with candor and maturity throughout the album, whom he found out was born in Samoa and led a double life in New Zealand before moving to Australia. He battles these conflicting emotions head-on on the man himself, wondering if he'll ever feel at peace with what he's learned—wishing to set a better example for himself even if he's bound to make mistakes too. On the positively epic unison, Le'aupepe reconciles with that loss with acceptance and love over a smattering of samples and electronic touches. But make no mistake, the track's slinky horns, and driving strums, burst forth with 80s-recalling cinematic dynamics worthy of Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno’s production work.

Despite the heartfelt way that Le'aupepe deals with his self-referential life story, the sheer ambition that Gang of Youths bring to angel in realtime. can sometimes feel at odds with the intimate tone he tries to present. It's the towering accomplishment the band has hinted at since they started almost a decade ago with 2015's The Positions; that said, although the album enjoys its fair share of memorable moments, it also suffers musically from the belief that bold is better and more is more. Which, truthfully, they shouldn't be faulted for considering it's the kind of high-stakes statement we don’t often hear from rock bands anymore. Dig into it deeper and you’ll find a surprisingly rewarding tell-all that sounds like an extraordinary premise to a film. Even if the score they write for themselves, as thrilling as it is, can be somewhat overwrought at times, resulting in an aural mood that could've used some dramatic nuance.