Gang of Youths’ have finally dropped that new album we’ve all been waiting for, and it gets some things very right while also being mostly dull.
Gang of Youths have returned with another LP, Angel in Realtime. This album is a little different from their previous efforts. Not a lot different, but different enough to make note of. When listening to this, I realised that this is what Christian rock sounds like when it isn’t complete garbage. The reason being that thematically it’s a very spiritual album, but it isn’t the only thing that it offers. This isn’t their best set of songs, but it might be their best album.
Each song on here benefits massively from being heard in context. It’s very cinematic, as is intended. If you listen to a few of these songs outside of the album’s context, they don’t really work as well. There aren’t really any hit singles per se, instead we get a sombre affair of loss and discovery.
It’s an album whose context honestly ends up more interesting than the music itself. In 2018, frontman David Le’aupepe’s father died. When he did so, his past secrets began to come to light. Previously, Le’aupepe’s father was thought to have been born in New Zealand in 1948, turns out he was born in Samoa in 1938. Not only that, but he had two sons in New Zealand before faking his death and moving to Australia. Le’aupepe was unaware of his half-brothers until his father’s death. So not only is the album about dealing with his father’s death, it’s dealing with the realisation that people you looked up to might have some dark secrets, secrets that now Le’aupepe has to deal with.
That’s what makes this album interesting and worth a listen through at least once. Nowhere are these themes more powerful than on the track ‘brothers’, a piano-led ballad with some of the group’s best lyrics and storytelling. It earns its sombre tone and piano led melancholy without being typical sad boy stuff but actually delving into interesting and thought-provoking topics.
The problem is that not that many of the songs work as well as ‘brothers.’ I would say most of the individual tracks here are either boring or typical Gang of Youth’s fare. Typical songs are tracks like ‘in the wake of your leave’ and ‘the angel of 8th ave.’ which are by no means bad, but nothing new from the group.
The rest of the album does do different things, like the 90s UK garage style beats on tracks like ‘returner’ and ‘the kingdom is within you’. Or the Polynesian musical influences on ‘the man himself’, ‘hand of god’, and ‘goal of the century’. The Polynesian influence is something I wish the band leaned into a little more. It’s there, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t ultimately change the songs from general indie rock structure or sounds either. It’s a shame because they grabbed good talent like the Cook Islands drum group Nuanua Drummers, and the Auckland Gospel Choir on ‘in the wake of your leave’. They are really underutilised and given Gang of Youth’s Springsteen-style big band sound, it could’ve really worked.
If there is one thing that the album does very well is injecting spiritualism and Christianity in a very effective way. Gang of Youths have stated multiple times that they grew up in the Hillsong church and while they aren’t practising, the faith is still something that influences them in their daily lives. That’s what they do well here, they aren’t preaching about how ‘Jesus is King’ (ahem), they are simply using their faith as a lens in which to view and deal with events. ‘spirit boy’ is a great example of that and it’s a power ballad!
The whole of this album is greater than its parts. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are a bunch of tracks on Pink Floyd’s The Wall that I don’t listen to unless I’m going through the whole album. This is a little different though, these songs don’t start and end with another track, they bleed into each other. There isn’t much musically that ties one song into the next with the exception of ‘hand of god’ and ‘goal of the century’, which unfortunately are two of the worst songs on the album.
It’s an alright attempt at something new but it feels like a jumping off point rather than the big leap forward. They haven’t committed hard enough to a new sound – maybe in an attempt to avoid alienating their fans, or maybe that wasn’t what the album was trying to do. I still think Gang of Youths fans will enjoy this, but I doubt it will reach any news fans. Ultimately, the concept behind the album is more interesting than the album itself despite having some great highlights in the track list.
- The angel of 8th
- Spirit boy
Least favourite tracks:
- Hand of god
- Goal of the century
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