Release Date: Mar 4, 2016
Record label: Polyvinyl
Moreso than any of its three older sisters, Music for Listening Music To, the fourth La Sera record, sounds the most sincere. Thatâ€™s not to say that the previous trilogy was manufactured, but whereas La Sera was Katy Goodman as choir, and where Sees the Light was Katy Goodman goes punk (to a degree), and Hour of the Dawn was Katy Goodman rattling her shackles, LP number four is Katy Goodman being Katy Goodman.The record puts at the forefront what most of Goodmanâ€™s works keep in the back. What was once homage or sly reference is now the main event.
Following on the heels of 2014's explosive Hour of the Dawn, La Sera (now officially a duo with band leader and former Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman teaming up with Hour of the Dawn producer and guitarist Todd Wisenbaker) returns with their Polyvinyl debut after three albums for the Hardly Art label. It is a more understated and pensive effort than Hour of the Dawn, with Wisenbaker now taking on a greater role. Ceding production duties to none other than Ryan Adams (who recorded this in analog at his Pax Am studio and plays synth on one track) allows Wisenbaker's guitar playing to really shine here.
Up to this point, Katy Goodman had always slightly shrouded her mellifluous voice under a blanket of fuzz. Goodman has always sported a silvery tone, the kind that can soothe with a soft touch even when the songs were rutted in places. This was the first thing that brought Ryan Adams’s attention when he decided to produce Goodman’s fourth effort as La Sera, Music for Listening to Music to, and the results of such a peculiar pairing are instantly apparent.
“High Notes” is an appropriate title for the lead single off La Sera’s latest album, Music for Listening to Music To. The group, headed by former Vivian Girls bassist Katy Goodman, consistently produces dreamy pop punk, but looks on this record to achieve something less ethereal. The album was written and produced at a time of transition for Goodman and her band — it features her newlywed husband Todd Wisenbaker, and was produced under the prestigious guidance of Ryan Adams.
Calling an album Music for Listening to Music to seems at best a throwaway line, at worst an unfortunate, self-directed neg. La Sera's fourth album, its first with singer/bassist Katy Goodman's husband Todd Wisenbaker officially on board, does itself at least one disservice with it, subtly highlighting that this is La Sera's most tentative-sounding outing. Produced by Ryan Adams in the sole week he was able to spare from a demanding schedule, Music finds the line separating "casual-sounding" from "underbaked" and plays hopscotch.
Don’t let the title of this album fool you – it’s more than just incidental background music. Previously an alias for songwriter (and former Vivian Girl) Katy Goodman, La Sera is expanded on this fourth full-length by Goodman’s husband Todd Wisenbaker on guitar and co-writing duties. He recently helped Ryan Adams create his acclaimed version of Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Adams returns the favour here on production duties.
The beauty of La Sera’s music has always been its saccharine contrast; cutting like a wincingly potent margarita, and sweetened with a sugary glass rim. With a name that vaguely nods in the direction of Andy Williams’ joyfully elated ‘Music to Watch Girls By,’ with a tongue-in-cheek twist, this album also sees Todd Wisenbaker officially stepping on board, becoming a fully-fledged member of ex-Vivian Girl Katy Goodman’s band. Ryan Adams is apparently a busy man, flitting off to remake Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ in a country style (as you do) at a moment’s notice.
Katy Goodman’s recent retroist celebration backs away from the bedroom garage-pop of 2014’s Hour of the Dawn and the lo-fi clatter of Vivian Girls. Her heart now belongs far from the sunset strip it was recorded on, and instead in the streets of Salford: La Sera’s fourth album is a shrine to the Smiths – or rather the Smiths with less scathing contempt, more amplified whimsy and driven by an urgent, rattled-out rock’n’roll rather than a melancholy groove. Now permanently performing and writing with guitarist and husband Todd Wisenbaker, with production from Ryan Adams, Music for Listening to Music to borrows a little of Morrissey’s lyrical melodrama (“A little girl took me aside and told me I would not make it through the night!”) and a lot of Johnny Marr’s mellifluous guitars, which provide some of the album’s most arresting moments: the driving energy of Time to Go, the jangling journey of I Need An Angel.
Music for Listening to Music To is a strange misnomer that feels like something straight from Inception. For one, the title states that these are the tunes one would listen to before immersing themselves in something grander in scale. It’s like walking from the kiddie pool and spreading one’s limbs as they cross into deeper depths. Thankfully, La Sera aren’t that shallow and simple when it comes to their sound.
Taken at face value, the title of Katy Goodman's fourth album as La Sera suggests that it's intended to be background music. Fittingly, and quite unfortunately, she comes close to achieving that goal.Goodman shifted away from the idea that La Sera was a solo project on 2014's Hour of the Dawn, but that record still felt like a group of friends executing her vision. Music finds La Sera operating as a full-blown collaboration between Goodman and her new husband, guitarist Todd Wisenbaker, previously of Jenny and Johnny.
Since she started making records on her own under the name La Sera, ex-Vivian Girls member Katy Goodman has refined and revamped her sound from record to record, starting with the deeply reverbed girl-group approach of the debut La Sera album, then adding some snappy garage punk to Sees the Light, and a little bit of power pop gloss to Hour of the Dawn. On the fourth La Sera album, Music for Listening to Music To, she's turned the basically solo project into a duo affair, officially adding her husband Todd Wisenbaker to the lineup. He had already served as guitarist and producer on Hour of the Dawn, but now he's a true partner, co-writing all the songs, playing all the guitars and basses, and providing vocals.
As you’d expect from a country record, La Sera’s fourth album is full of love. This love includes good and bad romances, adoration of Johnny Marr’s guitar playing and classic songwriting, but essentially it’s in love with the redemptive power of music. Hence the title, which is up there with Spacemen 3’s Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To as one of the most straight to the point album titles ever.
If the album cover of Katy Goodman and a mysterious man in sunglasses didn’t give it away, the male voice on third track One True Love definitely does. La Sera is now a duo, and Goodman’s new bandmate is also her new husband, guitarist and co-writer Todd Wisenbaker. On indie pop cut One True Love and the rollicking I Need An Angel, Wisenbaker’s gritty voice scuffs up Goodman’s buoyant one – a good thing, since she can sound static at times.
Early in Music For Listening To Music To, Katy Goodman’s stunning soprano ascends about 40 seconds into “One True Love,” resulting in a gorgeous moment of sonic bliss to inspire a half-dozen heart-eye emojis. Moments like these are par for the course on a La Sera record, but what makes this one so striking is that it follows a verse by Todd Wisenbaker, her collaborator and, as of late last year, spouse. While Wisenbaker’s vocals have their own kind of dusty swagger, they lack the personality to thrive alongside Goodman’s here or on the other two songs he leads on.