Album Review: Gustaf - 'Audio Drag for Ego Slobs'

For fans of ESG, Talking Heads and The Slits, please welcome Gustaf, the art punk five-piece from New York City making waves with their debut album 'Audio Drag for Ego Slobs'. Freya Martin breaks down the band's long awaited record.

It’s rare that a debut album delves as deep and so immediately into your consciousness as that of NYC art punks Gustaf, who released Audio Drag for Ego Slobs on Royal Mountain Records (Mac DeMarco, Alvvays, Orville Peck) earlier this month. An album two years in the making, the enigmatic five piece from Brooklyn, New York City, have sealed themselves at the forefront of a resurgence of DIY punk, reminiscent of The Slits, ESG or Talking Heads and hot on the heels of the post-punk movement currently flourishing in British DIY scenes.

Cobbled together on the way to SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, in 2018, Gustaf embody the DIY ethos of being structured yet disorganised, tight yet relaxed. The band are quietly confrontational in their lyrical delivery yet still remain decidedly tongue in cheek, the influence of fellow NYC natives and predecessors ESG prominent throughout, with punchy vocals paired with rhythmic basslines. This is particularly clear on album opener Mine, instantly setting the tone for the album with a delicious mixture of tight bassline, snappy drums and clean, semi-sprechgesang delivered with bags of attitude and heavy dollops of sarcasm from vocalist Lydia Gammill.

"Gammill’s wry and spunky vocals instantly demand a head bob and a boogie"

Known for their energetic, entertaining live shows but with a minimal online presence, the band’s infamy has been spreading across New York City and beyond by word of mouth and reputation, as well as with helping hands from the likes of Beck, Tropical Fuck Storm and more recently IDLES. Lead single and absolute standout track Book features heady drumrolls transporting the listener straight back to the original punk scenes of the 1970s, while Gammill’s wry and spunky vocals instantly demand a head bob and a boogie. It's an irresistible earworm of a track which results in some odd looks on the bus when listened to – take it from me. The tracks on Audio Drag for Ego Slobs are deceptively simple yet effortlessly executed, and wouldn’t be out of place in a line up alongside The Slits and The Raincoats with their sophisticated, female-led punk sound.

Liquid Frown is an unexpected gem of this album, a softer track featuring flute and a more plaintive, sultry vocal from Gammill. The quietly aggressive narrative opens with the lyrics “I’m going to lay it down for you, the ones who are all staring back at me / cos you were the ones that told me that / I could be whatever I wanted to be/ Well look at me now, I’ve got vomit on the ground / It just crawled from my mouth / A sad, liquid frown”. Painting a surreal, tragic yet humorous image of calm confusion, Liquid Frown is a musically accomplished track which still demonstrates the band’s capacity for having fun.

Photo by Felipe Torres

The album features heaps of variety between tracks, with Best Behaviour a more calming offering which summons up a slacker-punk energy and vocals that seem ever so behind the beat. Off-kilter keys and a softly drawling chorus of "I’m good, I’m very very good /I’m good, I’m really really good’’, in an attempt to convince perhaps us and themselves of the titular best behaviour. Sarcasm-packed Dog and feisty Package both feature enticingly tasty bass funks courtesy of bassist Tine Hill. The album’s final track Happy has echoes of the mournful vocals of Porridge Radio, taking the record through the full spectrum of energy and emotion with a pleading melody that showcases the range of this band, and their surprising capacity for a tenderness.

Gustaf have been quietly and steadily making a name for themselves as an art punk powerhouse to keep an ear out for. As an absolute sucker for a tasty bassline and any hint of female post-punk influences, the music of Gustaf instantly hooked me. Audio Drag for Ego Slobs has marked these relative newcomers as proficient musicians with a knack for channeling the DIY energies of earlier bands of place the original punk movement. A perfect balance of structure and raucousness, punk and funk, this band has produced a polished and cohesive debut album borne from 3 years (give or take, thanks to our old friend Covid-19) of experimenting, gigging and honing their sound. Audio Drag for Ego Slobs is one heck of a first record, as would be expected from such a charismatic and talented band.

Written by: Freya Martin

Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of Gustaf via . Video courtesy of Gustaf via YouTube.