I like Compilation Appearances Vol. 1, despite falling somewhat between the two poles of audiences it’s ostensibly made for. Lycia came out of Arizona in the early 1990s, and after a few stops and restarts, has formally been dissolved as of last year.
Primarily the project of guitar and synth player Mike VanPortfleet, they certainly never had “hits” and didn’t even get much airplay—they missed the short-lived peak of their sound by about a decade, give or take a handful of years. Yet recently, the band has been joining the company of the “unappreciated in their own time” list, with acclaim including being named one of the 100 best Phoenix bands of all time by a local paper. (A lesser writer would go for a “Phoenix rising from the ashes” parallel with Lycia’s posthumous praise, I hope you appreciate that I’m avoiding such a cliche.) This collection, as its name implies, is made up of rarities & side projects produced over the first part of Lycia’s history (further volumes are planned). It is designed, to quote the info sheet, to fill “. . . in the lost gaps of Lycia’s earliest days for the fanatic, as well as introducing the band to a new generation.”
Well past any possibility of being a goth rock fan by the time Lycia hit the scene in the early ‘90s, the closest I ever got was Depeche Mode and the Jesus and Mary Chain—neither totally goth rock by most standards, but using some of the same paintings to decorate their caverns. Goth music was the child of Joy Division and the Cure, largely embraced by, not to be too unkind, mixed-up teenagers who were so torn-apart by their feelings that they considered killing themselves. Or at least, wanted to pretend as though they did, enjoying the morbid fantasy of it all. The overwhelming spirit of goth rock is gloom and darkness, but fans huddled to it as if it were a campfire. When you find yourself having thoughts that some would term perverted, there is great comfort in discovering others who say “I’ve had the same feelings, it’s cool.” But for the most part, while goth gals and guys were either waiting for Robert Smith to kiss them, kiss them, kiss them or wondering why they couldn’t be him, I was forever living and dying with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, not a band known for darkness despite their name. So: if you are a Lycia fanatic, I imagine you have already been as quick to snatch this up as I have been to order the first US release of Kirsty MacColl’s last album (now available with bonus tracks including Kirsty’s last song, order now, kids). If you are a new generation of goth fan, well I’m sorry, but I am not in a position to tell you if this album is better than the Tones on Tail collection. You’ll have to work that out for yourselves based on your own wants.
What I am in a position to say is that Lycia, at the stage of their development covered here anyway, played chiming, echoey guitars both electric and acoustic over industrialesque drum programs and synths. VanPortfleet sings a bit, but his admitted discomfort with it led him to bury his vocals in the mix, so they’re largely inaudible. But vocals seem irrelevant to Lycia’s sound. It’s more about creating a mood than telling a story or posturing and swaggering about how big your dick is, popular pop song subjects of today. And more than half the songs here are instrumentals.
What lyrics there are, are in some ways just dressed up versions of the same things most people write songs about. “Byzantine”, for example, takes its name from an ancient, labyrinthine city. But if you seek out and read the lyrics (not included with the disc but available on the band’s web site) it’s really as much a don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-until-it’s-gone song as anything Chicago ever wrote.
John Lennon once told David Bowie that glam rock was “. . . great, you know, but it’s just rock and roll with lipstick on.” Lycia seem to have been a pretty good band, if a decade behind the times, but goth rock is still rock and roll, after all. Even if the makeup is a bit heavier.
// Notes from the Road
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