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Empty Space

(Silber; US: 2 Dec 2003; UK: Available as import)

Lost Goth

I can’t say I was ever the world’s biggest goth fan. I’ll give credit to the hardcore kiddies that love the stuff, however; the look that went with the love certainly alienated me as much as a devoted punk’s aesthetic might drive away a disco freak. Not that the fashion drove me away completely. I had friends in high school who were into the goth scene, and in my college days I certainly spent enough time at my favorite dance club, even on Monday nights, which were the designated goth night of the week. But the whole dressing in black thing (which I actually did quite a bit at one point, but I must give credit to James Spader playing the character Graham in sex, lies, and videotape for inspiring that fashion choice and not the Goths), wallowing in a kind of self-centered apathy that was more put on than pure, and listening to the likes of Peter Murphy, Siouxsie Sioux, et al. only went so far to bringing me any satisfaction.

Not that I haven’t dabbled here and there in goth music. I still own my “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” single by Bauhaus, and I do own both of the Siouxsie compilations. I’ve always been a fan of the Cure, but I prefer their poppier stuff over their melancholy work, and will always feel that Boys Don’t Cry is their best album. And I’ve always loved the Cocteau Twins, though again, more for their work from blue bell knoll to Milk and Kisses than most of their early, gothic-tinged work such as Garlands and Head over Heels, though I will confess a secret love for their early EPs over those first albums.

And that brings us to Lycia. The band was formed back in 1988, with Mike VanPortfleet being the constant throughout the years. Band members come and go, including John Fair, Will Welch, David Galas, and perhaps most importantly, Tara Vanflower, who joined the group in 1994 and added the female spark to the group. However, the band was always ridden with personal conflict, and the members would often quit and rejoin, only to quit again in the middle of album projects. Empty Space was such a project. Recorded in 1999, the sessions fell apart due to more personal woes and was not completed until 2001 by VanPortfleet, remaining shelved until December of 2003 when Silber released the album after Lycia parted ways with their original label, Projekt.

So what we have here is an older release of sorts, but I must say—and I may be completely wrong here since I’m not an expert in the genre—that I’ve often found that the whole goth genre has its own sound that sort of self-contains its groups and creates this musical vacuum. That is, just because this work was recorded a few years back doesn’t make it sound dated. After all, do the Cocteau Twins’ first albums really sound like anything else before or since? That’s exactly what Empty Space is like. In fact, a number of songs here, such as “Not Here, Not Anywhere” sound like a sort of mid-period Cocteau Twins, where the band was weighing the goth with the lush pop they would embrace later.

The instrumental “You Can Never Go Home Again” sounds like something that crept out of gothland circa 1985 with its insistent electronic drums and jangling doom-laden guitar notes. Tara Vanflower makes her first appearance on “Persephone” and sings lines like “Catching the corpse before she falls / Watching the crack upon the China doll shatter the time” as quasi-tribal beats and minor keys play out their sinister tones in the back. OK, so maybe that’s another thing that pushed me away from liking this kind of stuff as well; the lyrics and the whole haunted house atmosphere.

It’s certainly a quality that drowns songs like “Hope Is Here”, where VanPortfleet whispers his words as the band cranks out another spooky atmosphere. But how much of this sound can one enjoy? Especially when there are other instrumentals on here, like “Fur & Thistle”, that sound no different from “Not Here, Not Anywhere” and “You Can Never Go Home Again”. And really, that’s the problem with this album. Everything just sounds the same. By the time you’ve reached such obvious tracks as “Violent Violet” and “Bloody Basin”, you feel like you’ve sat through the same song on repeat.

The right folks will undoubtedly love this kind of thing. For me, I need a little more variety if I’m going to bend an ear towards this genre. Overall, the sound is just too repetitive and skeletal at best to even warrant keeping this disc in my personal collection. But, if you go for this kind of confection, then it would probably be straight up your alley. So chalk another one up for the goths who will continue to keep a large group of music fans at bay with their insular ways.

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Darkwave luminary Lycia had its 1996 album, Cold, issued on LP for the first time recently, and with the band's first full-length in a decade due for release in August, Cold's reappearance is a timely reminder of Lycia's legacy in the sphere of bewitchingly mournful music. 
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