2LP released by Italian label AvantGarde. Order here.
- A Brief Glimpse
- This Moment
- Monsoon I (Anticipation)
- Monsoon II (Aftermath)
- The Realization
- Distant Eastern Glare
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Information in English here. Click to order CD
Released in 1991, Ionia is Lycia’s debut on Projekt. With its brilliant blending of intense cascading guitar, droning synths and deep, whispered vocals, the release quickly found a home with fans of independent, underground goth as well as spacey ambient music. On this influential and much-admired album, songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Mike VanPortfleet speaks to a melancholy that’s intentionally left open-ended. A raw mournful mood pulses beneath songs of isolation, existence, love and loss.
Ionia is a post-punk musician’s attempt to create an ambient record. VanPortfleet (with musical assistance on a few tracks) created hypnotic soundscapes that turned the mournful into the majestic. Inspired by the primal sounds of bands like Swans, Big Black and Cindytalk, and a desire to take it into realms of deeper experimentation, VanPortfleet reflects, “The mood of the album was influenced by my growing interest in darker-themed books and films, mysticism and existentialism, as well as an increasingly isolated and aloof personal life.”
Ionia appeared as a completely realized concept, putting Lycia on equal footing with influential bands of the time such as Dead Can Dance, Joy Division, The Swans, and Bauhaus. Ionia instantly fit into a fan’s music collection, never seeming like an newcomer’s debut, but rather like a classic one had always owned.
Darkly beautiful, flooded with a sense of loss and mystery, Ionia is devastating yet hopeful. Breathtaking and bewitching, the striking atmospherics and yearning lyrics create an achingly entrancing panorama of bittersweet longing.
Twenty-six years later, Ionia returns in a sonically-revealing remastered edition, overseen by VanPortfleet and Martin Bowes (Attrition). This is the reverb-drenched gothic take on ambient that put Lycia on the map.
Recent press about LYCIA:
PITCHFORK: “For over two decades, Arizona’s Lycia has been pioneers of “darkwave,” a reverb-drenched, gothic take on dreampop. This is the Cocteau Twins if they looked so far inward that they began to focus on the darker, downer-ridden side. Along with lovesliescrushing, who freed shoegaze from pop conventions, they became one of the noteworthy and boundary-pushing acts on the goth music label Projekt.”
POP MATTERS: “Lycia’s influence, and the respect it’s afforded, has been far more profound than any record sales figures would suggest. While VanPortfleet might have felt his band was under-appreciated, you only need look to the resurrection of deathrock, the rise of witchy and hauntological electronica, shoegazing metal, eerily psychedelic Americana, or the rejuvenation of dark ambient music to see that Lycia’s legacy inspired a raft of musicians across a broad range of musical genres.”
Press from back in the day
“The whole album is a complete work of art that will go down in time as one of the best alternative/gothic albums ever to come out of the ‘90s. We will look upon Ionia as we look upon other great works of the past, like all Bauhaus albums, early Christian Death, early Xymox (Clan of).” – Isolation Magazine
2017 Re-release in 4-panel digipak
2021 2nd digipak edition
Reviews Editor –
Alternative Press July 1992
Lycia, alternately known as Mike VanPortfleet, is one of those dark but pleasant surprises: a new entry into the gothic rock realm with a clear cut musical identity already established. Ionia is an hour of funereal beats and synth/guitar fusions; a mystical blend of gothic, industrial, psychedelia and 70s electronics.
Listen to “November.” One can clearly hear the works of Cluster and Eno within the morose rhythm of the beat and the slight dissonance of the electronic/lead guitar mix.
Listen to “Desert.” Sounding like a slow-speed Eldritch, the spiritual imagery of the lyrics are reminiscent of Carlos Castaneda or even Jim Morrison. Spirits fly about a man in the desert, cleansing him of his emotions in this metaphysical kiln. The piece end with a litany of the emotions, all encased in a vibrating wall of electro-guitar sound.
Ionia is meant to be listened to with the lights out, and perhaps some candles lit. Eyes closed, or concentration on the candles’ flicker, The listener becomes engrossed in the music. Loses track of time period. Loses track of body period. Dark hallways of spirit.
Lycia succeeds in musically presenting a dark tapestry in which lysergic journeys may be made without the use of acid. It is suggested that you take this trip.
Michael C. Mahan
Reviews Editor –
B-Side Magazine Dec 91/Jan 92
Lycia: Ionia (Projekt)
What an excellent release. The title track is simply one of the most superb pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time, but don’t ask me why. It’s one of those reactions. Can I go on from there? Seriously, this is moody, yes, chilling, yes, but don’t get started on those buzz words like ethereal and haunting: they don’t work here. Sorry. Leave them outside when you come in to listen to this one.
Lycia’s creator (yes, one person is responsible for this) Mike VanPortfleet has hit the magic edge between what one could consider a Gothic mode and what another could take as aggressive. People who won’t move past the Cocteau Twins would consider this aggressive. Those who adhere to the Godflesh side of world would consider this atmospheric. And those in-between will just find this a challenging, glorious listening experience. Growling, muttered vocals chase underneath music built high into the air like a cathedral. Excuse the weird imagery but imagine someone who managed to take the sound the sight of a magnificent ancient moment inspires and close miked it along with an ear the towards the ritual goings on down and dark catacombs.
I’m babbling, I don’t know what to say except if you’re tired of fluff and seeking a release to challenge you, here it is. There’s something special happening in Arizona: with Lycia, Skinner Box and others, the shimmers on the desert are for real.
Reviews Editor –
Ionia serves as the best starting point for becoming acquainted with the vast soundscape of sculpted time and space that is the music of Lycia.
I first got this album purely on my reading of the customary purple-prose description in the Projekt catalog, which made me expect something like Red House Painters, without really having any idea what it was like. So I ordered it in the mail, and once I got it, gave it quite the wrinkle of the nose when the opening peals of the title song poured out of the speakers. I immediately imagined myself turning it in used to my local independent record sore for a quick buck back on my investment, not taking very well to the apparent “gothic” bombast I was presented with. But listening to it the whole way through, I found a couple of songs I liked right away; the grandiose “This Moment,” and the closer “Distant Eastern Glare.” And as that song faded off to close the album, I began to understand what Lycia is about. Once again, some will dismiss them as “gothic”, but that’s not really who they are (although “they” in this case was really “he”; as Lycia at this point was actually a one-man band consisting of Mike Vanportfleet). Lycia’s music is a very consistent, honest set of subtle emotional landscapes built on yearning, thoughtful, reflective music. Mike’s vocals are the most unique thing about Lycia – whispered, husky, and mysterious; simple yet embodying very fully the singular blend of the harsh and the soothing – not unlike life itself – which defines Lycia’s music. The vocals may well put you off the first time you hear them, but give it time, as I had to do, and it all makes sense. Lyrically there are certain key words and phrases which pop up repeatedly throughout all of Lycia’s songs, enough so that it would be easy to jump on and criticize, but I think the consistency and willingness to stick with variations on a theme works really well for them (as I’ve mentioned in my other Lycia reviews).
Towards the beginning of the album are the most heavily thematic songs, such as the title song and the archetypal anthem “Desert”, then the middle section is thick with sweeping instrumentals, almost like film themes. Then it closes with three extremely good songs that are somewhat more intimate and personal in nature; “Granada” paints a grey watercolor scene of evocative memory and association, “The Realization” is a satisfying, comforting testimony of self-knowledge and acceptance, and then the aforementioned “Distant Eastern Glare” wraps it all up very nicely.
Lycia’s appeal is probably a bit esoteric and undoubtedly some people won’t “get” it, and I wouldn’t fault them for that, but I for one am extremely glad I stumbled across this excellent band. -Micah Johnson
Reviews Editor –
From Rain Science
This album has such a special atmosphere – verging on desperation and dreaminess, dark temptation and submission, carrying you away on the waves of its bewitching shoegaze melodies in six ambient instrumental tracks and luring you into the depths with half-whispering voice in six tracks with lyrics. To me it’s the ultimate music for autumn, for late nights and grey rainy days, when you decide to willingly submerge yourself into the darkness and melancholy. There is no sweetness in them, you start to feel like all attempts to resist the temptation are futile and doomed.
Lyrics are also something that captivates me, reflecting that neverending struggle of human nature, weakness and even depravity – “I am cleansed, cleansed by the desert / then isolation builds and I want to escape from this desert / then desolation burns / and I just want to sin again” (Desert); “And then I feel myself decline in the grip of Ionia / and then I see myself resign to the lust for Ionia / and then she takes me down, down, down..” (Ionia); or questioning the reality that seems to be slipping away, dissolving in the numb bleakness – “I stare down on everything / is this for real? / Everything is fading away / straight to the door” (The Realization).
Being the first Lycia’s album I’ve heard, it took a special place in my heart, and I consider it the best of them all.
Reviews Editor –
From All Music
Mike Vanportfleet *is* Lycia, or at least he was with the first album, recorded quite well on a four-track — no lo-fi hiss apparent here. From the opening of Ionia with the title track itself, the basic Lycia aesthetic was set: heavily processed, echoed guitars, stiff, equally echoed drum machines, icy synth-string keyboards filling out the rest of the music, and Vanportfleet’s sometimes narcotic, sometimes ominous whispery vocals on love, death, hope, life, darkness…the big issues, if you will. If that can seem sometimes a little too precious, his command of effective understatement by means of his singing at least lends the air of mystery such a lyrical and musical approach would demand. Some tracks vary from the basic template to an extent — “November,” with its more tribal drums and choral synth background, for instance. But all this said, Ionia remains as one-note in many respects as a Ramones album — but as with the Ramones, if you like the formula, you’ll love the whole darn thing. It’s all very goth rock, to be sure, but the fact that Vanportfleet prefers understatement in place of the vocal histrionics that can easily mar many a black-shrouded record gives Ionia a very dreamy, floating feel — at the very least, it’s excellent mood music, if you like that kind of mood. -Ned Raggett
Reviews Editor –
It was with great pleasure that I decided to explore the early offerings of Projekt (they can’t release material fast enough to keep me satisfied. What will happen when I have it all? God, best not to consider). Since Lycia is my favorite Projekt band (hell, it ranks up there in the top five of all time on any label) I could think of no better place to start, and since Ionia is my favorite Lycia disc…well, here’s a review (as unbiased as a worshipper of Mike Van Portfleet) can be.
This disc is flawless! Hell, this is coming from me, the man who can find something to bitch about no matter what. Once you accept that nothing is perfect, it only becomes a task of finding what’s wrong. I’m still searching Ionia for some tiny error. This disc scares the hell out of me.
A friend of mine and I found ourselves drinking alcohol, of some sort, late one night, when for the first time we discovered Lycia. “Everything is Cold” seeped from my speakers and it seemed as if it was the only song to be played for over an hour. Every time either of us thought that there was no way that we could take this song again, that we would finally descend completely into depression, the likes of which there is no escape, the other would reach out and begin the whole torturous process over again. This is a unique experience, and not one that I would suggest for the feeble. It was because of this song on From Across This Gray Land No. 3 that I knew I had to have more Lycia. Ionia was the curse to followed.
I never thought that anyone could recreate the hour of sublime pain, my friend and I put ourselves through–I’m a sadist, I really am–but here comes Ionia and I wonder at the sanity of Portfleet. This disc clocks in at almost an hour, but I am screaming for it to stop well before then. Sometimes, the good hurts too bad to bear, and the bad is too good to let go. This is one of those times.
There are no bad songs on this disc, but some are better than others. Oh, to pick among greats is such a rare pleasure! From the first song this disc exhibits a scary beauty, and it just doesn’t stop. “A Brief Glimpse, Granada, and The Realization” all make me want to cut my wrists in damp diagonal slashes. About half this disc is instrumental. Which for me usually impresses me less, as I need the images lyrics paint to enjoy most songs, but Ionia is different–different even than other Lycia releases. Here the music carries its weight and doesn’t just act as “filler.” Ionia wouldn’t be as good without Portfleet’s evil whispering vocals, but even lacking these, I’d still pull this one out again and again.
It’s impossible to go wrong with this release, and if one was limited to only one Lycia disc, Ionia would be it!