Let’s talk about Gang of Youths. If you had told me six months ago that my 2022 album of the year would have likely been set in stone not even halfway into the year, from a band who I had very little (if any) familiarity with coming into it, I probably would not have believed you. I tend to pride myself on making decisions based not on an immediate emotional reaction, but rather after an extended period of consideration, and yet, with the Australian-based rockers’ third LP, each successive listen only feels like further confirmation of my initial thoughts and reaction. To some, this review may feel a bit redundant: Morgan Fisher covered angel in realtime. in one of her recent roundups, and I myself caught the band on the Indianapolis stop of their North American tour in April. For me, however, it felt imperative to dedicate an entire article just to attempt to capture the impact and importance of an album such as this one.
Right from the first time I heard the opening notes of “you in everything,” I couldn’t believe my ears. How could a band craft such catchy indie rock tunes while somehow not just incorporating but often even spotlighting these lush string arrangements? How could a lyricist tell a story so vividly that it makes you feel all of these conflicting emotions, all at once? This is true not just of the stellar, 7-minute album opener which sets the tone for the journey we are about to embark upon, but also of the entire journey itself throughout its expansive 67-minute duration.
All across angel in realtime., frontman and lyricist David Le’aupepe’s storytelling is so gripping that it makes us, the listeners, feel like we are the ones living and experiencing it. Whether his takes are poignant (“in the wake of your leave,” “the man himself”) or pointed (“returner,” “the kingdom is within you”), ones of devotion (“the angel of 8th ave.,” “unison”) or reflection (“tend the garden,” “brothers,” “forbearance”), they all consistently captivate – and actively engage – the listener. There isn’t a single moment from angel in realtime. that feels unworthy of our attention, even with the different approaches taken over the course of the record.
Le’aupepe’s penmanship is one of the LP’s main pillars, with scores of powerful one-liners – I would challenge you to find a single song on angel in realtime. that lacks at least one of these; sports analogies (“returner,” “hand of god” and “goal of the century”); and religious allegories (“spirit boy,” also “hand of god” and “goal of the century”). However, his lyricism is just one way in which he invokes all these different emotions in the listener. He also achieves this from simply deploying his signature baritone, a voice which feels best equipped to invoke sentiments of melancholy, nostalgia, and reflection, all recurring themes throughout the record. Songs like “you in everything,” “in the wake of your leave,” “spirit boy,” and even the stripped-back cuts “brothers” and “hand of god” are all prime examples of this. Obviously, though, his voice isn’t the only instrument integral to the album’s evolution.
One of the most amazing things about angel in realtime. is just how many different sonic layers and elements are incorporated here. Musically it’s this vast, gorgeous soundscape, constantly evolving – so much so that it feels like a living, breathing, piece of art. And when I say “living” and “breathing,” I don’t mean in the sense that I suppose all music could technically qualify as, but rather in a far more drastic, magnified manifestation of the term. Everything that Le’aupepe and his gang of five does is done with an extreme attention to detail, to the point where it’s relatively easy, even for the untrained musical ear, to be able to pick out certain moments or sections on the album.
Each and every one of these moments can be appreciated, not just for how each one fits into the context of the record, but even as an isolated aspect of a particular song adding to that song’s individual charm. Think perfectly-placed banjo lines like is the case with “you in everything” and “unison,” or impeccable inclusions of saxophone such as on “unison” and “tend the garden,” the latter of which ventures almost into trip-hop territory at points, even in the midst of its dancy, disco-like beat. Elsewhere, The 1975-esque synths introduce “in the wake of your leave,” while Le’aupepe’s soaring vocals combined with arena-ready guitars on “the kingdom is within you” rival ‘80s-era U2.
Of course, we can’t discuss angel in realtime. without mentioning the gargantuan role played by Gang of Youths newcomer, the immensely-talented multi-instrumentalist Tom Hobden. The former touring member of Mumford & Sons just joined the band at the beginning of 2020, and yet his first studio effort with them already sees the Brit contributing in pivotal fashion. The LP simply would not sound the way it does without Hobden’s contributions, which range anywhere from bolstering the song’s instrumentation with his stellar violin work (“the angel of 8th ave.”) to arranging an entire strings section then performed by an orchestra (“you in everything,” “returner,” and the majority of the album’s back half). Indeed, his presence is felt over the course of the record in a remarkable way.
angel in realtime. is not an album that can simply be listened to, cast aside, and ultimately forgotten about over time. Instead, the entire Gang of Youths crafts an absolute opus with ornate, soaring melodies that will, in spite of their intricacies, consistently pop back into our heads long after we finish the closing notes of “goal of the century.” It’s not just the best release I have heard all year, but it’s very likely the best release I will hear all year. Even just three days into June, I’m having a hard time fathoming that anything could possibly top angel in realtime., and I suppose I have Le’aupepe and company to thank for that.
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