Formed in the late ’80s in Phoenix, Arizona, Lycia was primarily the project of vocalist and guitar player Mike VanPortfleet, joined here by John Fair on drum programming, Tara Vanflower on vocals and David Galas on bass.
This album was never finished due to the band’s breaking up, which may account at least in part for why four out of the nine tracks are instrumentals. It’s my guess you would figure that out even without my telling you; it’s an unfinished sounding album. And one that in some ways sounds more like a band at the start of their career than the end, but “This Is the End,” VanPortfleet informs us on the so-titled last track. And it’s a pity, really, because from what I’ve heard, Lycia had potential for so much to go right before they went wrong.
All chilly drum machines, yearning guitar lines and vocals buried in the atmospheric mix, this sounds like déjÃ vu for that song you heard on the radio a few times back in 1982 but never quite caught the name of the artist.
For the most part, while goth gals and guys were either waiting for Robert Smith to kiss them, kiss them, kiss them or wondering why they couldn’t be him, I was forever living and dying with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, not a band known for darkness despite their name. Goth music was the child of Joy Division and the Cure, largely embraced by, not to be too unkind, mixed-up teenagers who were so torn-apart by their feelings that they considered killing themselves. Or at least, wanted to pretend as though they did, enjoying the morbid fantasy of it all. But, well, heck, I like this band.
My first exposure to Lycia, on Compilation Appearances Vol. 1, which I reviewed for PopMatters in 2001, left me saying, “the overwhelming spirit of goth rock is gloom and darkness…but goth rock is still rock and roll, after all. Even if the makeup is a bit heavier.” I still stand by that opinion today.
There’s a corrupted but childlike voice — I’m speaking lyrically and compositionally — that seems to be at the core of what Lycia was, like a child bundled into his adult suit. If you seek out and read the lyrics (not included with the disc but available on the band’s web site), you find that VanPortfleet makes Morrissey or Martin Gore sound like Belouis Some:
it’s so cold and grey nothing but the wind and rain but through this haze I hear her cry
Still, but for a determinedly un-theatrical voice — and aforementioned dark lyrics — VanPortfleet might almost have been (gasp) pop-oriented. But that’s neither here nor there, is it?