When we last heard from Gang of Youths on record, Dave Le’aupepe was urging us to say yes to love and yes to life. And because of what Dave himself had been through over the course of the band’s first two studio albums, you knew inside that he was also reminding himself to do the same. “I wanna be loved, I wanna be whole again” he sang on “The Heart Is A Muscle.”
Almost four years have passed and Gang of Youths is back with a new single, “The Angel of 8th Ave.” It carries a lot of weight on its musical shoulders.
- It’s the first new music that fans have heard since Go Farther In Lightness. Expectations couldn’t be higher. As fans of a band and singer who wears his heart on his (lyrics) sleeve, we’re all anxious to hear how Dave’s been doing and where things stand today in his quest to be more human and love again.
- It’s the first new music since lead guitarist Joji Malani left the band and was replaced by Tom Hobden, a super-talented musician for sure, but one who’s better known for playing strings, not guitar. Even though we got a taste at last year’s Down to Earth charity gig, “Angel” has the burden of starting to answer what the new GOY lineup will sound like.
- It’s also the band’s first release under an international recording contract with Warner Records — reported here first in spring 2019 — so it serves as a “Hello world, we’re Gang of Youths” statement to what everyone hopes will be legions of new fans.
No pressure or anything.
The good news? “The Angel of 8th Ave.” carries all of that weight with ease.
It’s an almost unbridled love song that Dave is singing for and about his wife, Cort. The band’s email today describes it as a song “about finding love in a new city.” Yes, in the first couple verses he sings about being “a coward and worse to my shame” who “wasted every day” — themes that are reminiscent of Dave’s past struggles. But when Cort is introduced in verse two, Dave sings that “for the first time in a long time, inside everything stood clear.”
In that sense, “The Angel of 8th Ave.” is a natural progression from the story that Dave shared on Go Farther In Lightness. On that album, he sang often about learning how to love again and wanting to risk loving again. On “Angel,” we see him and Cort living that out together.
You persuade me now
To look closer in the mirror
And I wanna lay me down
For years and years and years and years
Dave has promised that his father’s death in 2018 will be a significant theme of the new Gang of Youths’ material. So it’s no surprise to hear him sing about it even in a love song for his wife.
You are good to me still
When my old man was near the end
You loved his broken body
In the same way that I did
While the lyrical themes remind us and build on the past, in other ways “Angel” is new ground for Gang of Youths. It’s a straightforward rock song that comes in at a tight, radio-friendly 3:58. Gang of Youths rarely does songs like this. “Angel” would be the second-shortest non-instrumental song on Go Farther In Lightness and it’s shorter than every track on their debut album, The Positions.
“Angel” is also a big STFU to anyone who questioned that Hobden-replacing-Malani decision. This new single makes it perfectly clear that Gang of Youths is still a Rock Band, capital R and capital B, and isn’t about to take up residence in Spotify’s Classical section. It has arena and stadium rock written all over it.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not qualified to speak super intelligently about music theory and musicianship, so I’ll just say this: It’s really f**king great. Donnie and Max are in fantastic form together. Oh, and good luck getting Max’s bass line out of your head; talk about an earworm.
Sure, you can feel Warner Records’ influence on the song, from the track length to the production and more. But “Angel” remains undeniably a Gang of Youths song, a pulsating, heart-on-its-sleeve love song that sits very comfortably on my list of favorites right alongside “Deepest Sighs,” “Heart Is A Muscle,” and “Still Unbeaten Life.”
The track ends with Dave repeating “there’s heaven in you now” (14 times if you’re curious). Although he spends most of the song singing to his wife, I believe Dave is singing to and about himself here. Joy is hard for anyone to capture in song, but it’s perhaps especially tough for Dave, who’s spent most of the first two albums writing about pain. So it’s all the more poignant that on “Angel,” he’s telling us what’s filling his heart now… and this heaven is no shallow kind of bliss.
I can’t help but imagine Dave thumping his fist on his heart as he sings that lyric in concert and the song builds to its crescendo. And I wanna be right there in the room with him, doing the same.
There’s heaven in here now, indeed.