On their debut album Notions, Heavy Gus showcase a talent for poetic lyricism and guitar-driven arrangements that draw from folk, indie and garage rock. The trio, fronted by Dorota Szuta, and including Stelth Ulvang (The Lumineers) and Ryan Dobrowski (Blind Pilot), have crafted a solid cohesive album, and while a couple tracks fail to catch fire, the majority here are filled with inspired lyrics and musical ingenuity.
The strongest track is single “Weird Sad Symbol”, a garage rocker with a propulsive beat and attitude-filled vocal delivery. While there’s a nihilistic bent to the song (“I wish I was out in space and could watch the world crumble”), it doesn’t detract from the fun of listening to it. “Do We Have to Talk” also turns up the tempo and noise, with its murky bass and guitar distortion. It’s a good representation of the band’s general sound; focusing more on creating an atmosphere and vibe than specifically crafting hooks with pop flavor.
There’s a mellow, sleepiness to parts of Notions. “Dinner for Breakfast” surrounds Szuta’s soothing vocals with a wall of sound, bringing to musical life the feelings of depression that you can sense in lines like “Making plans, knowing we are never gonna keep them”. Sometimes the moseying beats conjure western music tropes, such as on the “get-along” beat of “Breathe”. Szuta matches her lyrics to the sound; “Stop along the street and see the horses standing there. They’re the bakers half-dozen made with sage and dust of the desert air” – words that flow with beauty even if their exact meaning is difficult to translate. In the same vein is the melancholy “Trees”, with its slide guitar and Mazzy Star-esque vocals breaking into dusty, cosmic territories.
The lyrics throughout the album are filled with moments of brilliance, even if they don’t often let listeners into Szuta’s thoughts. The closest she comes is on the orchestrated country-pop of “Distant Thunder”, as she laments a failing(ed) relationship and admits “I like to be let down”. And tying in the ephemeral with the personal, “Scattered” is a lovely acoustic song, filled with gorgeous harmonies and strings that calls back to Szuta’s earlier hopes on “Weird Sad Symbol” as she sings “We watch the earth crumble around us”, and digs back into a crumbling relationship and the existential crisis it creates (“The longer you stay the more I feel scattered. Weird that you thought that anything mattered”).
There is a lot here to dissect that will likely take multiple listens digest. Notions has numerous layers that will reward the patient. If you’re a fan of bands like Hop Along, Heavy Gus will be a perfect fit for you. Smart songwriting bunkered into folksy, mildly grungy indie rock songs. The album drops on August 5th, and you can stream the pre-released tracks here.