Estrella by Lycia (Review)

Lycia is probably one of the few modern bands to truly capture and continue the sounds captured on such seminal discs as Faith and Pornography without sounding like mere copycats.
Estrella, Lycia

Silber continues their love for all things Mike VanPortfleet with this, their latest Lycia-related release. Previously, they’ve released Lycia’s final “album,” Empty Space. Last year, they released Mike VanPortfleet post-Lycia debut, Beyond The Horizon Line, which found Lycia frontman Mike VanPortfleet moving into much more ambient, atmospheric territory. And now Silber is re-releasing Estrella, VanPortfleet’s last real album under the Lycia moniker.

Estrella arose out of a fairly troubled time for the band, as well as a period of transition. Plagued with band tensions and health problems, VanPortfleet had essentially shelved Lycia in 1996, and had begun an acoustic side-project titled Estraya with vocalist Tara Vanflower (the two would get married later that year). However, by late 1997, work on Estrella began following an extensive tour.

Estrella continues in the same vein as Lycia’s previous releases, utilizing VanPortfleet’s Cure-inspired guitar work and drum programming — indeed, Lycia is probably one of the few modern bands to truly capture and continue the sounds captured on such seminal discs as Faith and Pornography without sounding like mere copycats — as well as Portfleet’s menacing whispers.

However, by the time work had begun on Estrella, Vanflower had taken over the lion’s share of vocal duties, and her ethereal range actually brightens up the duo’s sound — relatively speaking, of course. The overall mood remains as dark and ominous as ever, as is the case with “El Diablo,” which finds Vanflower’s vocals spinning round lost and dazed amidst coiling, serpentine-like guitar riffs. And on “Tainted,” VanPortfleet’s guitar soars against harsh drum machines and alien synth textures — not surprisingly, the closest comparison might The Cure’s “Fear Of Ghosts,” only more barren and forlorn.

On “Tongues,” layers of both Vanflower and VanPortfleet’s vocals practically assault the listener — Vanflower’s wordless, “little girl lost” vocals soar high overhead while VanPortfleet’s vocals simmer just below the surface. Together, the two sound like a case of glossolalia gone horribly wrong — or the Cocteau Twins slowly going mad inside some abandoned asylum.

But there are moments where Lycia’s sound lightens a bit, and a few rays of starlight actually make it through the gloom. One such example is the aptly-titled “Silver Sliver,” one of the disc’s strongest tracks. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the disc’s more oppressive sound thanks to Vanflower’s softer vocals, cosmic lyrical imagery, and the sparse piano melodies that trickle down throughout. Honestly, this might be one of the finest Lycia tracks I’ve ever heard.

I was a big Projekt afficianado back in the day, but strangely enough, the one Projekt band I never fully got into was Lycia, arguably the label’s flagship band after Black Tape For A Blue Girl. As such, I’m quite enjoying this new attention provided by the good folks at Silber, simply because I feel like I’m getting to catch up on a band that I should’ve checked out years ago. What’s more, listening to Lycia now, years after these releases came out now, I’m impressed at how well VanPortfleet’s music manages to transcend the clichés so often associated with goth music despite it being so firmly rooted within those genres.

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