Art-punk outfit Gustaf stand their ground on their witty, insightful, and amusing debut album, ‘Audio Drag for Ego Slobs’.
Whether watching Brooklyn-based Gustaf perform or listening to their music, the band seems to be in a constant state of experimentation. While their music foundation is etched in ’70s-era New York City punk and art-rock chaos of the Talking Heads, there is no boilerplate for their frenzied approach nor for the off-the-cuff, tongue-in-cheek songwriting style of project lead Lydia Gammill. And for three years, Gammill and bandmates Tarra Thiessen (vocals, percussion), Vramshabouh Kherlopian (guitar, vocals), Tine Hill (bass), and Melissa Lucciola (drums) have perfected the methods to their madness, culminating in their impressive debut album, Audio Drag for Ego Slobs.
There is no time for sitting on this crisp 31-minute LP. Instead, each of its ten perky songs are made for what people do best at a gig featuring a band with an outstanding live show – dance like it’s the first night out after a two-year slumber. It begins with “Mine”, which beams with the disco-punk virtues of Blondie. With a stammering guitar and hip-shaking worthy rhythms, Gammill stands her ground against the influencers and judgmental types who take credit for her individuality:
“You say that I’m much too old to still be lo-fi
I tried for times to rearrange myself to fit within your mind
So why not sympathize with how I’ve walked along your lines
I heard your words, you can claim them first
What you said it was mine”
The energy continues on the bouncy and quirky “Book”. This song’s theme is not related to anything scholastic, but it builds on “Mine”. It’s the antithesis to conformity, where the band seeks to not be shackled to expectations, particularly by those who hide behind social media. “Hey why don’t you come down here and laugh at me like a real human!”, Gammill utters to her detractors. She further sets her sights on these individuals on “Liquid Frown”. With an appropriately sinister vibe, she rallies against those who accuse her of changing and her “new ways”. She, however, wisely notes the glarers are the ones who truly are unhappy.
The madness of people can be described in part to the odd times. On “The Motions” Gustaf address life in a bubble and how we become oblivious to what’s going on around us. “I can’t keep track!”, Gammill sings as she realizes that her undoing may be due to her apathy. At other times, the lack of kindness causes our unraveling as the addictive “Cruel” describes. She calmly and accurately states, “Common sense is so pedestrian”, and yet so many people are devoid of this quality.
Even when in love, the band offer insightful yet amusing commentary. The funky, jittery “Best Behavior” is a love song like no other. It’s almost like a relationship-of-last-resort, as Gammill states with a hint of sarcasm, “You were the one that I have to cling on to”. The band take the idea of a relationship to another level with “Dog”. With a smooth groove that would impress Mr. Byrne, the quintet wittingly observe how people often have more affection for their pets than their human companions:
“You know it took a little effort to see (hey)
Who’s that pulling the leash
Good for your dog!
Good to feel so strong”
Despite Gustaf’s musings, the band show a sincere side on the oddly sensual “Happy”. They wish an enemy, an ex, or an old friend all the happiness in the world, opting to put all the negativity behind them. They instead opt to move forward because that’s the only way they and all of us can feel all right. At the same time, they’ll continue to be who they are and refusing to be ordinary. After all, Gustaf are anything but ordinary; they’re in a class of their own.
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