Nobly continuing their Lycia remaster/reissue campaign, which is, at the very modest least, as important as oxygen to anyone who, ummmm, has a soul or working ears, Silber is now three albums in and they’ve gotten to the highly influential Cold album. Even at the time of its 1996 release, it was hailed as a classic — the “alternative press” went into a tizzy over its poised mystery. And it has a fascinating fairytale backstory, too. Apparently this album marks the point at which the then-core trio of Lycia (David Galas, Mike VanPortfleet, Tara Vanflower) decided to up sticks from the desert and head east, settling in the colder climes of Ohio in a single household. Now I don’t wanna be so fucking bold as to suggest that this was Lycia’s defining Big Pink/Band moment, but yeah, it was their fucking Big Pink moment. If the Band has shown us anything, it’s that cold weather, woodsier climes, isolation, and living together and making music together can only result in great things. Cold is one of those things. Recorded over two winter months in early 1996, Lycia’s sound continues to evolve from earlier releases, away from the controlled chaos and toward a melancholic, dark purple cloud of stately atmospherics, with Vanflower’s vocals moving more to the fore as an equal with VanPorfleet’s, and a sound that seems to chart a course for the heart’s innermost secrets, deep inward, instead of upward toward space and the stars. A sound that is fragile as a tree branch bent by winter frost, but somehow inexorable and immovably solid at the same time.
What’s a guitar, what’s a synthesizer, what’re the effects pedals and delay used? It doesn’t fucking matter and you can’t fucking tell — that’s the genius of Lycia. The individual notes and chords and instruments blend into one dense, ornate cloud of sound that slowly drifts through your speakers and settles over you, warming you or chilling you to the bone, depending on your mood at the moment. How can an album be so unobtrusive and suffocating at the same time? Depends on how much you want to pay attention. Maybe a peripheral listen will garner you a wealth of pretty, melancholy ambiance, but closer, obsessive listens yield an altogether more strange and wonderful creation — Gothic baroque with a futurist manifesto. Space rock that fell to earth.
The guitar that begins “Bare” glistens like teardrops trickling down a cheek, rising up over a dark swirl of treated synths and percussive clicks, Vanflower and Mike VanPortfleet’s duets/shared vocals are a thing of difficult beauty — him sounding like a dying old man, her sounding like some sort of sprite trapped behind a wall of water — it’s not for the pop-minded, but with patience comes beauty! Other duets like “Drifting” are just too fucking beautiful, the slow pacing wringing maximum beauty out of every downcast note, the vocals so perfectly mismatched, but buoyed by lush blankets of honeyed sonics; it’s wonderful.
Or how Tara’s “Baltica” ends up sounding more like a warning than a song, with her guileless lalala’s opening up to wide vistas of tense, seesawing synthetic orchestration. The instrumental “Colder” definitely had to have been a huge influence on Xasthur — I can hear so much of the more melancholic moments of Forgotten Epitaph springing from this — the cavernous drum machine, the cabin fever synths, spidery interlocking guitar lines, no choruses, no urgency, just a movement toward entropy. The vocals only come in at the very end, like an undead Dead Can Dance. “Snowdrop” (sense a lyrical theme yet?) is a long, undulating swoon, shapeless synthwaves are given form by ringing piano chords, the percussion sounds like sleigh bells if you listen closely enough. Songs like “Polaris” are painstakingly crafted sirens’ songs. Vanflower’s voice trills and echoes between and around choirs of airy synths and electronic meres in a serpentine dance, before breaking into more violent and powerful storms.
After being storm-tossed for so long, the opiate calm of “Later” is a perfect closer; eyes blurred from laudanum or pick your poison, hazy curtains of slowly falling synths and insinuating guitar squiggles couch vocals that sound like the last remnants of a dying royal family, the court falling into sumptuous decay — a slow march into nothingness, and yet you want to follow them anywhere.
Silber Records: www.silbermedia.com