By Gia Vescovi-Chiordi
Music For Listening to Music to is a moniker that may be a bit ham-handed, but in the end is a relatively accurate descriptor for La Sera’s starry and light fourth studio album. Leading away from the noisier, punkier habitat the outfit has been inhabiting, La Sera (former Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman and new husband/guitarist Todd Wisenbaker) has put out an album that is grown up (or growing up), casually taking direction in an undefined, hazy way. Recorded to analog tape during a week producer Ryan Adams had free, Music for Listening to Music to (Polyvinyl) overall benefits from the folksy touch, with moments where it truly shines.
Released in early March 2016, MFLTMT was written casually as songs fleshed out with no real purpose before Goodman saw an album forming. Combining longing worthy of a high school sophomore, deep dips into Smiths territory and the occasional Western flourish, the album begins with “High Notes,” a snarky track that kicks off fast with superb 90s tones and country gloss. “High Notes” could easily be the opening song for a decades old Disney flick (Wish Upon a Star, anyone?), but with a fun twang and a layer of harmonica that’s short and sweet. There are instances when Goodman’s sustained notes feel like a false falsetto – an effect that makes some moments drag – but overall the album opens in a vibrant manner.
“A Thousand Ways” is a simple, sugary waltz that marches through its cadence with a little slice of tambourine, a good pairing for third track “One True Love.” “One True Love” is misleading; an upbeat ditty with lyrics centered around following a disenchanted lover without the intention to fix things, only to be near. A slightly stalkerish sentiment but hey – we’ve all been there. “Begins to Rain” follows the now established lyrical theme of love and longing, with jaunty strummed out verses, a lonesome twang and a heart wrenching bridge. Goodman shines here, floating along modestly enough for you to inject your own brand of sorrow right into the heart of the track.
“Take My Heart” is a slow churning take on a 50s doo-wop loner ballad, falling neatly into place on an album that champions emotion. Permit me to pitch to Hollywood “Take My Heart” behind any scene taking place inside a paper mâchéd gymnasium during the ‘big’ dance. “I Need An Angel” is a solid, Smiths soaked track infusing jangly Johnny Marr guitar with a lilted delivery that rings. Goodman’s echoing, reverb soaked peal pairs nicely with Wisenbaker’s slightly stilted contribution, chugging along each other separately in a Jekyll and Hyde motif, somewhat akin to a Cure/Smiths mashup. “Time To Go” takes us through punk territory; fast and punchy with Goodman perfecting her Morrissey and solidifying the unmistakable parallels.
In addition to “I Need An Angel,” “Shadow of Your Love” is another burnished gem. A downbeat, folksy ballad dripping in echoes and tinged with the yearning of a lone cowboy next to his campfire under a black night sky. There’s a resonating old west vibe steeped in a solitude that is both cathartic and sad – I even feel dashes of Eisley thrown in the mix. “Nineties” is a synth laden, sun dappled Southern California track, a palette cleanser hitting just before “Too Little Too Late,” the effort’s subdued closer.
Overall, Music For Listening to Music to is a step in the right direction for La Sera, imperfect and under cooked in some areas, but with a soaring accessibility that makes it thoroughly listenable. Which takes us full circle to the title, doubly confirming La Sera may have more self reference and insight than one might initially expect. Was it Katy Goodman, or the voices in your head?