1960s sunshine pop is probably never going to stop being an appealing sample source, but there was a short period around 2005 where it really seemed to take hold. Alongside retrospective compilations of groups like The Free Design, the movement produced modern adaptations of the sound by the likes of Koushik and Dan Snaith's Caribou/Manitoba, alongside numerous others. This micro-trend forms much of the backbone for Years Not Living, the new LP by Greek producer Larry Gus (a.k.a. Panagiotis Melidis, who now resides in Milan). While it's difficult to glean exactly which parts of his compositions are original, one of the record's clear positives is its density—these tracks are pretty far beyond standard singing-over-a-loop sample pop. At the same time, Years Not Living is almost bizarrely positive sounding, and its sunny escapism tests one's patience.
One can hear what DFA must have found appealing in Larry Gus. There is an archness here that jibes with the label's aesthetic; Melidis is hardly James Murphy, but his exaggerated vocals, which move between bellows, yelps, chants, and unpolished falsettos, have a palpable free rock spirit. It can be difficult to take him seriously as a result, especially when matched with the pastoral triangles and gently cascading guitar that line a track like "In Violet Ink." Melidis has confirmed a chief influence in the legendary Italian singer Lucio Battisti, a master of conveying sensations of yearning and nostalgia via a free, particularly Mediterranean framework (sample song title: "This Pink Hell"). One has to dig pretty deep to find much pathos in these tracks, and not only because of Melidis' hard-to-follow vocals. Still, there are spots of it: on "The Eternal and the Ephemeral," he signs about "suffering in disguise"; "The Percival Seascapes" opens with what has to be a traditional piece from the American South, with sounds that are haunting, ancient, and uncannily familiar. "Paths Laid Down" soberly insists, "don't you die alone," but when it bursts into melody, it feels absolutely festival-ready—its intentions are blatant. Tracks like "The Night Patrol (A Man Asleep)" and "The Sun Plagues" employ psychedelic bellowed vocals that could be taking cues from either The Doors or Nicolas Jaar, and both are stacked atop organic drums, flowing organ lines, and skronky horns. They might hint at a darkness, but it's largely obfuscated. Alongside Battisti, Melidis is influenced by Madlib, and it's clear from these pieces he has some of that producer's ability to locate or flesh out a lush loop. Truly, in all respects, Years Not Living consistently has its share of treasures. Melidis has surely succeeded at creating a sunny, idea-rich patchwork. But listeners looking for some emotional nuance might find it a touch saccharine overall.