Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
The work of Grecian sound artist Larry Gus is situated at a generational impasse. On the surface, his songs emanate the decadent psychedelia of the Summer of Love and the chorus of even weirder echoes it spawned across the world in the early 70s. For the countercultural groups that practiced it, instrumental psychedelia was crucial because it offered a break from the structurally limiting model of the pop song: the fuzzed-out histrionics of Funkadelic’s 'Maggot Brain', the polyrhythmic incantations at the backbone of Can records and the paisley shimmer of The Zombies’ 'Odessey and Oracle' all worked in their own ways to push against the rules of the three minute radio single. The execution of the psychedelic experiment varied from group to group, but the purpose in the early days was basically always the same: to break away from the supposed banality and egocentrism of pop by valuing the sound of the collective over that of the individual.
In today’s world, this dichotomy looks more fuzzy and pixellated, probably due to the mimetic tricks of digital reproduction and virtual emulation. Easily accessible tools that enable artists to push in the opposite direction of the lengthy psych jam — using samplers and software to deconstruct their influences rather than to barrel ahead into their depths on blind faith — have spurred a renewed interest in the pop song as a valid creative form. In 2013, it’s pretty hard to be sure which sounds are “valid” and which are not.
Larry Gus works within the blurry dichotomy of the now, using contemporary composition techniques to engage with the sonic detritus of a lost era. Ragged album opener With All Your Eyes Look sets a standard for the hybrid style of the album: lurching into motion with a phrase of shifty tropicalia, after just a few restless bars the percussion drops out, leaving behind only the whine of a single, resonating drone. When the beat returns, though, it’s all forward motion — the rest of the track is a kaleidoscopic whirl of hypnotic grooves and effervescent harmonies, grounded by Gus’s somber, deadpan vocal delivery. Many songs on 'Years Not Living' are bookended by licks you might find nestled on the latter half of a Nuggets compilation or somewhere deep in the Sublime Frequencies back catalog, but they usually serve to juxtapose lyrics that are wry and blankly observant: “the sun beats on the lead knell on the roof/ the head in your room/ the heat in your room,” sings Gus in a dry baritone on The Night Patrols (A Man Asleep). There is a methodical schism between Gus’s compositions and the sounds that ornament them, as he aims to reconcile forms of sonic exploration from before and after the dawn of the virtual realities that destabilise today’s world.
The results are an intuitive, playful form of electronic pop free of the generic cliches that haunt today’s future-fetish beat scene — there are no decontextualised trap beats here, no chopped-and-screwed Muzak jams, no autotuned vocals and no air horns a la Diplo. Instead, 'Years Not Living' is a hacked collage of fossilised sounds, assembled into contraptions that serve as deft vehicles for Gus’s oblique, open-ended songs. The dialogue between past and future on 'Years Not Living' traces an augmented, restless map of the contemporary listener’s imaginary: a deep fracture in the creative mind full of falsely implanted nostalgias that compete for attention with starry-eyed visions of the future, discordant layers of memory rearranging themselves endlessly upon circumspection.
DFA released 'Years Not Living' on the 2nd September 2013.