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Lycia - Cold

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Artist: Lycia

Album: Cold

Label: Silber

Review date: Nov. 16, 2007

In college, I briefly dated this Goth girl. She, like many students from the suburbs, was caught up in the blurry, blackened contours of the soul, identifiable by fandom with anyone on the Projekt record label. I’d seen Projekt’s ads in the back of Alternative Press years before, but they looked far too daunting for my tastes at the time, a rundown cul-de-sac of sedentary moan I’d just as soon not visit. But one day she showed up wearing a Lycia shirt, proclaiming some gnarled, desecrated landscape and the words “A DAY IN THE STARK CORNER.”

“Why would anyone want to spend a day in that corner?” I questioned.

“What if someone forced you to be there?” was her reply.

I hadn’t thought of that before. I hated questions answered with other questions, but here I was, without anything to say but a quick dismissal. Not that I didn’t wallow in teenage self-pity and repression, but the music I chose to listen to in those days was just that: a choice – building blocks in a long, eventful crawl in discovery of things yet to be taught to me. It was an escape from my problems, where it would seem that with Lycia, or Black Tape for a Blue Girl, or any of the other too-indie-for-the-mall releases on Projekt would have only compounded them. The Projekt label’s roster reminded me of a bleakly curative take on what others, from later Talk Talk to the Cocteau Twins, had already declared. Goth, as it were, was moving away from the drudgery of the agonies beset upon the human soul, and Projekt seemed determined to paint it on tenfold, a step back from the explosion of indie rock, free jazz and rare groove sounds that had sent me reeling at the time. Not that similarities didn’t exist between my world and theirs, but their constraints on good times were serious to the point of hilarity. I listened religiously to the first Labradford album, Prazision, its green marble slabs spinning on my turntable like moving statues. The same constituent parts made up the music of Lycia. What made their brand of ethereal drone so much different? Why could I accept one and not the other?

If it had to be broken down to one key issue, it’s that Labradford, like many non-Goth artists working in the medium, maintained an emotional distance from their music, even when their end product said otherwise. Cold, Lycia’s 1996 effort, reissued here with new artwork but nothing more, cannot claim this distinction. Founding member Mike VanPortfleet, bassist David Galas and vocalist Tara Vanflower come off as spiritually glued to this music, and they are bummed. Every layer of subtlety is countered by a personal touch that all but smothers their efforts. VanPortfleet has a grand sense of arrangement, if not songwriting, the various diminished notes throwing themselves at listeners to create a false sense of depth, creating a musical prose more purple than their obscured, often wordless lyrics wanted to convey.

“But that’s the point,” you say. No, not really, especially given the directions taken on their better half of the material here, when VanPortfleet can pull himself up from the misery of existence. “Drifting” fits gorgeously in a world where the Cure went pop; to be true, this one, “Bare” and the pregnant pause of “Frozen” aren’t much of a stretch for fans of a modern act like Justin Broadrick’s Jesu, albeit one with a desire to stray from dozens of processed guitar tracks, stacking waves of maudlin synth crush over it. The rest, sadly, is heavy, and not in an enjoyable way. The waltzing “Baltica” sounds as if it could have been a score for the Beauty and the Beast TV series, and other unapologetic offerings from within (“Snowdrop,” “Later”) linger with a weight that plays out as comical, precisely the effect that Lycia wasn’t going for. One could argue that they were attracting an audience with this stuff – it really sits around the house, if you get me – but one must also ask the social question: what kind of person does this sort of music attract? It’s chintzy like a romance novel, and at its worst, almost as deep.

This is a two-part review. Read the second installment, focusing on M83's Digital Shades Vol. 1, here.

By Doug Mosurock

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