Larry Gus strains. Every song he makes pushes itself past its logical limits, every lyric pulls him closer to some breaking point, every frantic percussion hit is a punch in his own gut and yours. His music feels volatile, as if the moment his studio’s red recording light turns off, every musical instrument within a half mile falls apart and Gus collapses of exhaustion. Listening to his music would be draining if it weren’t so exciting.
For Larry Gus — real name: Panagiotis Melidis — exhaustion is nothing new. The Greek songwriter is notoriously neurotic in his recording process, supposedly using over four thousand samples to help write the stellar Years Not Living, Gus’s wildly overlooked previous LP for New York’s DFA Records. His newest collection, I Need New Eyes, incorporates more live instrumentation than his previous work, refining the eclectic but recognizable clutter that forms the Larry Gus sound. Melidis’s musical chops continue to improve; I Need New Eyes manages to bring in an absurd amount of sonic elements without the production feeling sludgy or the songwriting overcooked.
Larry Gus’s music is obsessive, and for that reason I obsess over it. Any music that is crafted with such sheer willpower demands my attention and deserves yours. Larry Gus would never be so pushy as to say that, but it’s true.
There are dozens of albums every year that claim to be “the dance album that will make you think” or make you “cry while dancing your heart out”. Larry Gus, no matter how danceable his music can get, will never claim this accolade. The ability to move one’s body while listening to his psychedelic music isn’t a put-on, it’s a necessity to liberate the dense, tight emotions unraveled in the lyrics. Without the uplifting rhythms the weight of the lyrics would be unbearable to both the songwriter and his listeners. “The Black Veil of Fail”, one of the bleakest songs on the album, pits Melidis against a familiar foe: the cancer of self-doubt. The pain of comparing himself to others continuously threatens to consume him from the inside out, but the lilting bass line and the constant light plinking of a rainstick keep both singer and listener from breaking down under the immensity of the self-inflicted pressure.
Despite the dozens of layers of exotic and unique instrumentation, it is always the percussion on Larry Gus albums that I fixate on. They’re what puts his music so far ahead of every other Avalanches-inspired songwriter. Larry Gus’s drums are euphoric, shining through on uptempo tracks like the album closer “Nazgonya Paper Strike”, which contains the constantly evolving pitter-patters of what sounds like every percussion instrument ever invented. The song has a pure, unbridled giddiness in its groove, one that should make the likes of Dan Deacon and Panda Bear very jealous. And all this in a song explicitly about the act of seppuku (ritualistic Japanese abdomen-cutting) with a chorus sung entirely in Greek.
Any album that regularly includes lines like “My past is all failed endeavors” and “Life is just a vector pointing to my mistakes” will never be easy to digest, but I Need New Eyes has some of Larry Gus’s most accessible songs to date. “The Sun Describes” is a perfect soundtrack to a wide-eyed morning walk through a crowded intersection, and “A Set of Replies” is positively funky, if that’s possible for a song about rejecting friends and finding comfort in confinement. In an alternate universe where Larry Gus is a pop superstar, the latter song’s “Not without a fight / Not without a fight” refrain and catchy synth riff make it the album’s hit single. A duet entitled “Belong to Love”, if written by any other songwriter, would be a simplistically sweet song about a budding relationship, however under Larry Gus’s pen and sampler it becomes an ambiguous ode to helplessness (and one of the standout tracks on the album).
The shortest song on I Need New Eyes is 4 minutes and 36 seconds long, which would make it the second-longest song on Larry Gus’s previous LP. But if you thought that the extended duration of the songs would give Melidis some room to exhale, some space to settle into a groove, you thought wrong. Larry Gus’s music is more concentrated than ever on I Need New Eyes, and that’s a good thing. A very, very, very good thing.