The Burning Circle and Then Dust [2 CD]

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With Tara Vanflower joining the band on vocals (though admittedly only on two songs), Lycia proceeded to record its most ambitious work yet, a 2-hour double disc set. The end result: the band's best record to date, combining the elements of the previous albums with new, more open production and musical ingredients to prevent the band from further repeating itself. Certainly this sounds like Lycia has always sounded in many ways - the same thick, ominous feel to the music, rhythm boxes and echoed guitars galore and Vanportfleet's breathless whisper reviewing emotional extremes and barren, lifeless landscapes. However, when the unexpected touches creep in, they mean quite a bit in context (and it's nice to hear Galas' bass work, an instrument seemingly missing or hard to detect in most previous recordings, adding to the sound). The opener "A Presence in the Woods" sets the tone - initially it sounds like Lycia by numbers, but then a quietly soaring chorus lifts the song out of the usual into something rather lighter, if only just. Most of the first disc works in such subtle ways -- "Pray" is as close as Lycia will ever get to power pop, at least in context of everything else the band does! -- but the second takes even greater steps forward, with even more prominent electronic elements and consequently mixed down or otherwise lessened guitar work, while Vanflower's sweet yet haunting vocals here provide a lovely contrast to Vanportfleet. The penultimate tune is the killer, "The Burning Circle," achieving a balance of delicate crunch and mood like no band since Express-era Love and Rockets. Beautiful and, more important, varied, Burning Circle remains a high point of American dark rock.

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