Beauty…true beauty…shifts into shapes and shadows. This is not the beauty that has been turned into a cold-hearted commodity to help control us through cradle-to-grave misery. Much like love, magic, and fear, this is the real deal that with open eyes can be found everywhere. It’s in the way the last shades of light hit a house long abandoned by human hands and lives as the land slowly works to take back what has always been rightfully its own. When an impending storm is brewing in the distance, painting the sky various bruised shades of elemental grays, swollen violets, and runny carmine, the beauty is all around as if to comfort us, small children, on a planet far too big and too small before the damage hits.
Few bands can capture such tangible beauty quite like Lycia, no matter what vision and emotion are being explored within the song. Formed in 1988 by Mike Vanportfleet, Lycia’s ranks would grow over the years with fellow musicians David Galas (songwriting/bass/percussion) and John Fair (synths/percussion) in 1993, and then, most pivotally, singer/songwriter Tara Vanflower in 1995. No matter what category they are placed in, gothic, darkwave, electronic, acoustic, etc, just know that Lycia is a band that has always steadfastly made music that can never be mistaken for another, including their 2021 EP, Casa Luna.
Casa Luna is an aural example of dynamite arriving in small packages because so much emotion, texture, and enchantment are packed within these six songs.
The EP begins with the hypnotically dreamy “A Quiet Way to Go.” Imagine being in the midst of a feverish state of semi-consciousness while prostrating on a lush forest floor, and you’re halfway there. There’s a soft beauty to Mike Vanportfleet’s voice as he sings the minimal yet potently evocative lyrics: “a quiet way/a quiet way to go away/to go away.” Mix in Vanflower’s ethereal vocals and the end result is a sweet narcotic of a song.
This is followed by the absolutely incredible “Do You Bleed?,” with Vanflower taking the vocal lead. If “A Quiet Way to Go” is the lullaby before the storm, then “Do You Bleed?” is the infernal eye of the tempest. The music is one crushing swell after another like waves made out of metal teeth. In the center of it all is Tara Vanflower sounding so captivatingly sinister. The song would not be out of place on Vanflower’s debut solo album, This Womb Like Liquid Honey (1999), which is a great thing. If you’re a fan of the work that Jarboe did with Neurosis, then “Do You Bleed?” should hit that same dark sweet spot.
This is followed by “Except,” which while more of a sedate affair, is no less haunting.
“..and everyone declines again/and it makes me want to get away/a million smiles, a million words/don't think that I will be here again…”
The song, both lyrically and overall feel wise is reminiscent of the constant reminder of how frail mortality truly is. Especially if you’re the one that is witnessing the decline from the sidelines, which is the kind of raw lodestone that once experienced, never really goes away.
“On the Mezzanine,” with its beautiful guitar work, short running time of under three minutes, and quasi-instrumental nature, is a gentle interlude after the raw but vital hurt. After that is “Galatea,” which can be best described as halyconian. There is something about Mike’s voice that just softly sings from the innermost crevices of the soul. It’s a low voice that softly breezes on top of the surface of a deeply hidden lake. In comparison, Tara’s voice is equally a force of nature though in place of Mike’s contemplative, secret tones. She often sounds like she is singing on high from the heavens, whether it’s the comforting sweet strains of a guardian angel or the warlike call of avenging seraphim. The final track, “Salt & Blood,” is more the former, especially with such beautifully written lyrics like, “...open your skin/ all the flowers in me spin/touch tongues to vine/stars in veins and earthlings shine…”
Casa Luna is an exquisite work from a band that has created and released so much spellbinding music since day one. While I have mentioned both Vanportfleet and Vanflower numerous times, a definite shoutout also needs to go to Galas and Fair for their absolutely essential contributions. The layers upon layers of instrumentation they build here along with Mike’s guitar, bass, and own synth work are a crucial part of Casa Luna’s enchantment.
Lycia is a band that far too many have slept on, though those who do know are already converts. This is a band whose music hits hard with a whisper, a kiss, a soft breeze, and then a Gail force zephyr that dusts up all the leaves and flowers. Even when the storm is violent, the land still dances and sways, much like Lycia’s music will do within your heart, mind, and ears long after the air has gone quiet.