By the late '90s, Projekt Records had usurped 4AD as the most respected independent label in the world. They'd taken a classy approach to the darkwave scene, releasing work by a diverse and interesting cannon of artists, such as Attrition, black tape for a blue girl, Love Spirals Downwards, Audra, Voltaire, Human Drama and Steve Roach. The label prided itself on rejecting the corporate dynamics of the music industry, and they released atmospheric, finely-textured records with gorgeous packaging and cover art. The band from that era that resonated the most deeply with me, who have been enjoying a resurrection on my personal soundtrack this year, is Lycia.
One of the things I love about Lycia is that they were a triumph of minimalism, that they created an epic sound with the most basic of tools. On the Ionia album (their first release, and my introduction), the band consisted of founder Mike VanPortfleet on guitar, and a drum machine. That's all. The beats were simple and mid-tempo at most. The lyrics were brief, and delivered in a whisper. And the guitar simply SOARED. In the way that the arches of Gothic cathedrals are designed to draw your eyes towards heaven, Mike's guitar lines on that album convey an ascension to the starscape of an Arizona desert.
If they get credit for nothing else, these guys deserve a spot in the Pantheon for conveying the sound of things which make no noise. On Cold, my other favorite record, the theme is indicated in the one-word title. Winter. Snow. Sleet. Ice. Frozen lakes and frost on the windows, bare forests and dry winds. On that album, Lycia effectively captured the essence of a season in a recording lush with frost-bitten guitar-lines and snow-drifting melodies. It retains the same dark ambient skeletal structure of their previous work, only with a much more full-bodied sound. Also, by this point Mike's icy vocals were accompanied by the lovely voice of his wife/collaborator Tara Vanflower. Her contribution drives home the simple truth presented by the album as a whole: winter can be bleak, but it can also be fucking gorgeous.
So who should listen to Lycia? People who like ambient music on the darker side. Hermits who dig drone, post-rock, or post-punk. Goths who'd rather read Cormac McCarthy than H.P. Lovecraft. Hippies who are into b/w nature photography. Metalheads who meditate. Maybe you. Check 'em out and see for yourself. And as always, support the artist by buying their music.