Photo Credit: Ed Cooke/Press
Gang of Youth’s frontman David Le’Aupepe has made a career out of turning intimate personal trauma into maximalist rock anthems. On the band’s breakthrough single “Magnolia”, Le’Aupepe told of a drunken bender that culminated in a suicide attempt. Throughout two albums, Le’Aupepe recounted personal tales of substance abuse, a partner’s life-threatening illness, and his mental health struggles. His band’s newest LP Angel in Realtime is informed by another traumatic event – the death of his father; who left a complicated past as his legacy. Angel in Realtime’s 13 tracks stretch across 67 minutes and mine the deepest, darkest corners of grief; though the album’s narrative arc ultimately bends towards cautious optimism.
As far as opening lines go, Angel in Realtime’s is about as stark and dark as they get: “I prayed the day you passed, but the Heavens didn’t listen // So we held you ‘til your dark skin dulled to fair.” It’s a startling and disconcerting first line – though one that appropriately sets the scene for what will soon follow. Your reaction to it upon first listen is as good a litmus test as any as to whether the arduous journey of Angel’s 67 minutes is one you can bear.
While opening “You in Everything” sees Le’Aupepe idolizing his late father (“The places you have walked, I consider Holy ground”), across the album’s following tracks, the immediacy of grief fades and Le’Aupepe considers his father’s actions in a less varnished, but similarly loving, light. “He lied about that too,” he sings in the stunning “Brothers” while recounting the various mistruths his father told during his life – from when and where he was born, to how many children he had. In the said song, he empathizes with his siblings who never knew their father, while trying to wrestle this truth with the love he still feels for the man who chose to raise him, but not them.
Angel in Realtime’s only truly brutal portrait is saved not for Le’Aupepe’s father, but Le’Aupepe himself. Self-hate and survivor’s guilt – two oft-ignored elements of grief – are given a startling voice on Angel. On album centerpiece, the shimmering “In The Wake of Your Leave”, Le’Aupepe begins “I was the loser at your funeral.” Later, he is left considering how his father would feel seeing his son silently spiral in the aftermath of his death (“The grave was turning // And nothing would absolve me”).
The similarly spectacular “Forbearance” sees Le’Aupepe’s self-hating tendencies return with vengeance. A sort of follow-up to 2015’s “Magnolia”, “Forbearance” similarly begins with Le’Aupepe recounting his suicide attempt – still racked with guilt, but hoping that time spent with his father in his final weeks and months can “atone” for his past mistakes. In the song’s second half, the cinematic arrangements fade from view and Le’Aupepe lets slip a heart-wrenching confession: “And if the whole thing was fair // It would be me that was fighting for air.”
If one had to pinpoint one song that marks Angel in Realtime’s breakthrough moment – where unrelenting bleakness is usurped by optimistic clarity – it would be “Spirit Boy.” The song begins with perhaps the album’s grimmest couplet: “God died today // He left me in the cold,” but across the song’s six-and-a-half minutes, Le’Aupepe finds salvation in the little things – in the “nice” London weather, in attending “the weekly football game,” in finding something funny to watch on TV. Finally, the breakthrough arrives: “I wanna live.” Given the no-holds-barred vulnerability that precedes this moment, when this revelation arrives, you believe every moment of it, and the air of heaviness finally begins to lift.