Oddbod composer from rural northern Greece serves up must-hear album
Quite where to start with this? The story goes that in 2006 our hero, Panagiotis Melidis, decided he wanted to do something good. So he started the Larry Gus thing. On his wishlist was releasing an album on Stones Throw Records. He wrote to the label and they sent him a hard disk full of samples for reasons that aren’t exactly clear. He became obsessed with the samples, sorting and arranging them into themes and trying to find ways of making them work together, using as his guide the complex plan of writing constraints used by George Perec for ‘Life A User’s Manual’. Like you do.
When he finished, Melidis sent the tracks, all 85 of them, to Stones Throw who said the music was too complex, too heavy, too psychedelic. In short, a big, fat no thanks. The whole tale and how the record, 2013’s ‘Years Not Living’, ended up being released by always-on-the-money DFA Records is charted in a pretty extraordinary film, ‘My Friend Larry Gus’, a fruitcake of a documentary made by Vasilis Katsoupis.
In the film, Melidis, who hails from a small town in northern Greece, comes across as curious character. The cock gags, getting his arse out, stupid dances and irritating his long-suffering girlfriend are all totally at odds with his music. He’s clearly one of life’s thinkers and to be fair the film shows a good deal of him angsting over ‘Years Not Living’, which is indeed a complex, multi-layered ride through a quite brilliant musical mind. It is sophisticated stuff, while being funky as hell. You completely get why DFA had someone’s arm off for Larry Gus.
Which brings us to ‘I Need New Eyes’, his second outing for the label. The new record comes with a fresh set of challenges. He lives and works in Athens where he moved with his now-wife and their son, after living in Milan for five years. So he’s a dad these days, which, it seems, has thrown up a new set of personal and professional anxieties. The album’s title comes from Proust who claimed “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”. Not that any of this especially shows on the record.
There’s a delightful skip in the step of ‘I Need New Eyes’, it feels more songwriterly than the debut, but no less accomplished. The sophisticated arrangements, inbuilt funk and nuclear-powered rhythms are all intact and, in places, it reminds you of the sort of thrill you get from early Talking Heads. ‘A Set Of Replies’ and ‘Taking The Personal Away’ could both be lost ‘Speaking In Tongues’ cuts, while the lovely slow dance duet of ‘Belong To Love’ is a hit all day long. Many of the eight tracks do that delightful thing of winding up the song early and wigging out for several minutes as they spin towards their conclusion. Take the charming church bell peel of ‘All Graphs Explored’ or closer ‘Nazgonya (Paper Spike)’, which is an almighty seven-minute romp that culminates in such a dramatic kitchen sink drum-off finale that’ll it’ll have you off your seat and honking like a seal.
While the sleeve keeps up the joker image, this is a delicious record featuring some very high quality tunage indeed. Where Larry Gus could find himself if he keeps up this sort of quality gubbins is anyone’s guess. One thing’s for sure, he’s in the right hands with DFA.