ong-time Projekt pinups Lycia have taken a neat sideways step to Silber Records for a spot of discography remastering, beginning at the end with their final completed recording; Estrella. The relative necessity of this venture being explained thusly: “because they were originally mastered by hired hands in single afternoons and Mike VanPortfleet wanted to restore them to more fully fit his original vision”. This desire even extends to the artwork, which has been replaced with designs closer to the initial conception. Side-by-side comparisons will not be forthcoming from me though, as my listening experience extends only to this updated version. So you’ll get questionable metaphors and a tenacious avoidance of the terms ‘darkwave’ and ‘ethereal’ instead.
Right, good, enough background guff.
Lycia’s sound (on this record, at least) is akin to a cloudy gaseous substance continually trying to expand beyond the confines of an ornate glass jar. Based heavily upon beguiling loops of drum and synth which perpetually climb and unravel under the strain of their own momentum, the music evokes a sense of tense claustrophobia. Repeated phrases gently emerge from the fog, almost daring to slip their restraints, before deftly re-veiling themselves in intrigue and swirls. All of which presents an interesting conundrum, as although the sounds being emitted could all be loosely slotted into the ‘ambient’ category, it can make for a subtly unsettling listen.
The sense of nervous unease is compounded by the shared vocal duties of VanPortfleet and witchy priestess-siren Tara Vanflower. Each brings their own distinct tone, adding some needed variety to the sonic washes that might otherwise stray towards a rather interchangeable mass. Tara’s methodology involves plaintive inflections of differing length and volume, which, depending upon your mood, level of imagination and tolerance for this sort of thing, will either offer up romantic Labyrinth-esque visions of fantasy ballroom opulence or leave you feeling slightly irritated. She takes charge on the majority of tracks, with Mike’s furtive spoken-whisper lurking deep in the mixes of only “Tainted” and “The Kite” (itself a bit of an enigma—my attempts to track down the Armando Norte painting upon which this song is supposedly based turned up absolutely nothing, except Lycia-related links).
Stylistically, this is all quite marvellous. As an isolated artistic piece, Estrella performs admirably. A snag may be hit, however, when you begin to ponder where it may fit into your pattern of listening. This was my problem, anyway. Although essentially a record of semi-ambient works, I couldn’t envisage spinning it in the background as a non-distracting accompaniment to other tasks--it’s far too disconcerting for that and repeatedly demands listener attention. Nor could I see myself reaching for it as something to blast out as a mood-lifter or anger-disperser. It’s just not quite robust enough. The purpose Estrella would best serve is the creation of a state of extended disquiet ... should the circumstances ever arise. If you can espy a place, a feeling or an occasion in your life for that; prepare a space on your mantelpiece for an ornate jar of cloudy, shifting hue.
Or, like me, you can cling to the hope that mere ownership will attract a convocation of goths in lacy black undergarments.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2005-09-26