I finally figured out what bugged me so much at first about this: it’s happy. After the bitterly chill, unremittingly bleak isolation of Cold, hearing a Lycia album with several syrupy love songs and a more or less positive attitude comes as quite a shock.

Which is not to say that Lycia has become the Monkees or anything. My favorite song on Estrella, “Tainted,” has the trademark Lycia feel, with Mike Van Portfleet intoning despairing lyrics of betrayal against a wash of smothering synth and frozen guitars. But the drums that shatter the scene with a defiant heartbeat are very different from the subdued feel of Cold, and fit more with the new warmth and approachability that the move of Tara Van Flower from guest vocalist to lead singer and main lyricist has brought to Lycia.

At its best, the collision of Mike’s chill instrumentation with Tara’s warm voice makes for some Kodak moments from hell. Like “Tongues,” with its pounding drums evoking stars blinking on and off, while Tara’s wordless vocals and Mike’s whisperings paint a Void alive with voices and demons burning in the endless cold and dark outside and within us. On the other hand, we also get a couple sappy love songs like “Estrella:” “With cotton candy lips like dew/ Your pretty face and eyes of blue.”

But the good more than outweighs the bad here, especially for Lycia fans. Watching the closing “Distant Fading Star” melt before the brightness of the coming dawn, chill synth-tendrils and guitars curling about my ankles, I find myself looking forward to what Lycia will come up with next, as Mike and Tara have more time to meld their styles. Until then, Estrella more than amply fills the void. Projekt/Darkwave, P.O. Box 146636, Chicago, IL 60614

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