Few artists in the darkwave scene are as celebrated or iconic as Lycia. Formed by Mike VanPortfleet in 1988, the band has released twelve albums to date, most of them on the equally iconic Projekt label. At this point, VanPortfleet and his collaborators could probably just coast along on their laurels and release yet another album of icy synths, crystalline guitars, and chilling vocals — and folks like yours truly would eat it up because nobody’s as good as Lycia at that sort of thing.
So imagine my surprise and delight when VanPortfleet et al. switch things up a bit on Casa Luna, a 6-song EP for Italian label Avantgarde Music, without totally sacrificing everything that’s made them great over the years. Mind you, Casa Luna is still full of the Lycia-isms that have served the band so well over the years. “Do You Bleed?” hews closest to the dark sound that Lycia has perfected over the years, with roiling guitars and industrial sounds that manage to be as beautiful as they are abrasive.
However, “Except” and “Galatea” are straight up synth-pop à la Clan of Xymox and Handful of Snowdrops, albeit in a still-haunting format thanks to VanPortfleet and Tara Vanflower’s otherworldly vocals. “Galatea” is particularly successful in this regard.
Not only is it one of the catchiest and — dare I say? — poppiest songs that Lycia has ever recorded, it might also be one of my favorite Lycia tracks period due to its incongruity with the rest of their aesthetic. Or rather, because of the way in which it channels Lycia’s aesthetic through a rather clichéd template (e.g., ’80s synth-pop), which puts those aforementioned Lycia-isms in a new and successful context while also breathing new life into the clichés. I’m not saying that I want an entire Lycia synth-pop album, but a few more songs in this vein? Sure, I’m down with that.
Finally, the remaining tracks — “A Quiet Way to Go,” “Mezzanine,” and “Salt & Blood” — display the softer, more elegant side of Lycia’s darkness. All three tracks rely heavily on Tara Vanflower’s sighing vocals, and the more acoustic-based instrumentation (including some lovely Spanish guitar filigrees on the latter two) strike up a more graceful and refined pace.
In all, Casa Luna is a perfect example of both what’s made Lycia so successful for three decades, as well as proof that even after all that time, Mike VanPortfleet and his collaborators can find still new ways to delve into the darkness.