Gabriels are seemingly from the past and future — and of the present — with a singular form of avant-R&B twisting gospel, doo wop, soul, funk, and disco. Showcasing the probing lyrics and highly expressive voice of the church-honed Jacob Lusk, the Los Angeles-based trio made a low-key debut in 2018 before reaching a wider audience of tastemakers in 2020 with Love and Hate in a Different Time, their first EP. An ascent assisted by the BBC and KCRW, combined with awareness-raising performances at Glastonbury Festival and Coachella, has raised the group’s profile as they’ve added to their discography with the Bloodline EP (2021) and the full-length Angels & Queens (2022-2023).
Producers Ari Balouzian and Ryan Hope met singer Jacob Lusk in 2016 while working in Los Angeles on music for a commercial. Compton native Lusk had performed with Nate Dogg’s gospel group InNate Praise, served in church as minister of music, and competed on American Idol — placing fifth in the series’ tenth season — before establishing himself as a background singer and choir director for the likes of Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Ledisi. Balouzian and Hope needed a choir for their ad and were dazzled by Lusk’s direction, arrangements, and on-the-fly creativity. The trio started making music together on an infrequent basis, as time allowed between obligations. A piece of music they wrote for a Prada ad developed into “Loyalty,” featuring Ashley Sade Gillis as co-writer and Lusk’s duet partner. Belgium’s R&S label issued the song in December 2018 as the commercial debut of Gabriels, the name taken from the Sunderland, England street on which Hope grew up.
The trio’s self-released second single, “In Loving Memory,” arrived a year and a half later, after Balouzian provided the music for Some Kind of Heaven, and Balouzian and Hope did the same for Feels Good Man. (The two documentaries premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.) “In Loving Memory” caught on in the U.K. with support from BBC DJs Gilles Peterson and Benji B. Near the end of 2020, Gabriels issued Love and Hate in a Different Time, and gained another high-profile fan in Elton John, who spotlighted the group on his Rocket Hour program. Facilitated by a label and management deal with Atlas Artists, Gabriels struck licensing arrangements with Parlophone (in the U.K.) and Elektra (in the U.S.) before returning in December 2021 with the four-song Bloodline EP. Shortly thereafter, KCRW named the group 2021′s Breakthrough Artist.
Also in 2021, Gabriels performed on Later…With Jools Holland, and the band further expanded their U.K. audience the following June with an appearance at Glastonbury. The festival gig was preceded by the single “One and Only.” More live dates were on the group’s calendar, but they opted to scrap them due to the limited availability of Sounwave, the producer known most for his Grammy-winning work with Kendrick Lamar. The four completed the first Gabriels album together, and that September, as Gabriels opened for Harry Styles in the States, they issued Angels & Queens, Pt. 1. The full album, Angels & Queens, followed in July 2023, months after the group performed at Coachella. ~ Andy Kellman