The Sydney band’s third album is the ambitious sound of a son coming to terms with his father’s lies and complicated life.
Gang of Youths always seemed to be a band that passed me by. I enjoyed the Sydney band’s 2018 set at Glasgow’s TRNSMT Festival – one which pulled one of the biggest crowds of the day on the King Tuts stage - and liked the odd song I’d heard on Radio 1, but I never invested my time and effort in a manner they deserved. That is until recently. Third album Angel in Realtime is one that instantly demanded my attention, the theme of grief and investigation running throughout definitely giving it an added intrigue.
January preview single ‘in the wake of your leave’ (track two) is case and point. I fell in love with it on first listen, really feeling its poignancy and reflection, that sense of sadness contrasting to its hopeful sound and radio-friendly hook. Inspired by Dave Le’aupepe’s grief following the death of his father, it possesses an addictive, yearning quality that was so easy to get lost in. “My hand / On heart / It's not a thing that I've been dreaming of / And it throws me without warning” sings Le’aupep. It was hard not to momentarily feel his chest-pumping pain.
First preview single ‘The Angel of 8th ave’ carries a similar emotive quality, instead being inspired by “falling in love and finding a new life in a new city together”. It carries the big synth-rock influences of 80s Springsteen, New Order and The Killers, a love letter to London and the band’s Big Smoke experiences. It had such an impact, Radio X nominated the song for their Record of the Year and they even performed it live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Sonically, Gang Of Youths are testing new waters and with added strings, classical and folk inspiration, their ambition is to admire, even if it doesn’t always land.
‘Unison’ touches on Le'aupepe’s Samoan background (“Swimmin' it up like assholes at Sinalei / The way my ancestors did”), the Americana and Maori influences providing an interesting change-up, though, for me, it just felt too sprawling and really lacked the same punch of previous singles. Put it this way, it’s never a good sign when you’re checking how much of the song is left halfway through...
The Samoan influence is strong again in ‘the man himself’, backing vocal duties provided by the indigenous people of Mangaia and, again, they incorporate new sounds and attempt to freshen things up for a track with an unrivalled emotional draw. The singer further strengthens his ties to his ancestors in the wake of his father’s death as he questions how to take on board the news (“Hey Now / I dunno what to feel, I dunno how to feel right / But I want to become my own man, I guess”).
‘Tend The Garden’ is a wonderfully bright sounding tale based on the frontman’s father’s experiences moving from Samoa to New Zealand to Australia. Sung from his dad’s perspective, you’re left encapsulated by the story of mistakes and regret which comes to the fore when he indulges in his passion for gardening.
On ‘Brothers’ Le’aupepe lays it all out over a sweet six minute piano ballad, coming to terms with the secrets of his father’s life that he’s only recently uncovered. He reveals that his father had told several lies regarding his age, race and birthplace, also keeping quiet about other children he’d fathered and abandoned. As he reveals his father's tale, he attempts to understand his reasons for his deceit, at the same admitting to guilt that he “stole” all of his father’s love. Its proper raw, fascinating content laid bare.
The main criticism over the 67-minute album is just that, the length. Honestly, tracks like opener ‘You In Everything’, ‘Spirit Boy’ and the abovementioned ‘Tend The Garden’ and ‘Unison’ do seriously outstay their welcome. Does this spoil the album? It really depends what mood you’re in, but boredom and distraction do threaten on more than one occasion. In the album’s defence, when it does threaten to do so, tracks like the upbeat and reflective ‘The Kingdom Is Within You’ come along to nullify any staleness that may have been setting in.
We depart the album on the grand-ness of ‘Goal of the Century’ and with its swirling strings and enormous build-up, it has the Gang of Youth’s frontman come to terms with his father’s death whilst looking forward to a future of parenthood with his wife (“we’re thinking of children, I wish you could meet them…”). It’s hard not to be caught up in the emotion of the finale and you depart the album with hope and content.
Angel in Realtime is a collection of songs that have allowed Dave Le’aupepe the opportunity to mourn his father’s passing and investigate his life with sensitivity and intrigue. An edit may have been desirable in parts both in track length and overall runtime, but its hard not to admire the ambition and charm on offer.
It’s painful and sad, reflective and optimistic, a son’s quest to analyse and question his old man’s legacy, and yet, despite the lies and mistakes, he finds it in his heart to forgive and empathise. Even if it’s a mixed bag in parts, there’s still plenty to enthral and ensure Gang of Youths won’t pass us by any longer.