Switched On – Larry Gus: Subservient (DFA)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Larry Gus is one of DFA’s best-established dance acts, and with Subservient he takes his long player count to four. It is easily his most personal album yet, too, dispensing with the sampler and with Larry – real name Panagiotis Melidis – playing every instrument himself. It is an itemised list, with a drum kit, an SM57 (Shure microphone), a guitar, a bass, a Teenage Enginerring OP-1 (synthesizer and sequencer), and a Roland JV1010 synth module.

Melidis sings both in English and his native Greek, with the overriding message based on empathy. He delves deep into recent experience as a father and a husband, as an artist trying to come to terms with the Greek crisis and similarly catastrophic world events. The musical approach is described rather neatly as a combination of ‘crisis funk pop and trad Mediterranean grooves’.

What’s the music like?

Given the circumstances you could forgive him for delivering some cold and rather harrowing tales, but the response to these challenges is one of outgoing warmth, shot through with a dash of humour and wistfulness.

Subservient does indeed feel a lot more organic with Gus playing the instruments, but more importantly the music itself is once again really well written. You’d struggle to find a more effective bass riff than Taped Hands Here this year, but that track is not alone – Ayler The Pilot is close on its heels with the hook ‘it’s not the family you have it’s just the family you know’.

The vocal tracks are indeed very personal, and A Likely Projection has a thoughtful contribution to go with the breezy riffs. Text of Intent is a remarkable piece of work, its rolling percussion taking the music far afield in response to the meditative vocal.

While some of the music is quite laid back, In This Position goes the other way with some incredibly busy and frenetic music, Classifying A Disease strikes out in the direction of space rock and the bass line on The Sun Sections is far out in an enjoyable way. It’s quite likely that Melidis has a short attention span, which he makes very good use of here.

Does it all work?

Yes. Subservient is a really strong blend of Larry Gus’s personal identity, influences and reactions to present day events. At the same time it brings out an undercover homage to 1970s funk and disco, given a fresh lick of paint and a new viewpoint in the studio.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. Larry Gus continues to make fresh sounds for stale ears, and remains one of DFA’s unsung treasures. Subservient finds him getting ever stronger musically on his most personal album yet, in spite of those day to day vulnerabilities.

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