Four albums in and Katy Goodman has once more morphed La Sera’s sound. This time the LA outfit’s material has been influenced by an analog approach, which gives these ten songs a back to basics, garage rock feel. Goodman’s marriage to guitarist and band mate Todd Wisenbaker has also changed the dynamic here. There’s a more celebrative approach to song writing and vocals that allows for a broadening of what La Sera have to offer. In short it’s a record that’s a pleasant surprise, and I haven’t even mentioned the ace up La Sera’s sleeve yet, it’s produced by Ryan Adams.
These ten songs represent half an hour of new material for La Sera, you’d imagine then that with such a concise album there’d be little room for experimentation, you’d be wrong. Recorded in just a week at Adams’ PAX AM studios the Californian trio often opted for first takes, and jettisoned many of the vocal harmonies that had previously been a staple of La Sera’s sound. Reportedly the latter approach was Adams’ suggestion to remove a safety net that Goodman had used while singing in the past. The result is less polished than some fans may be expecting, but it’s also captured a live spontaneity that preserves Music For Listening To Music To as a snapshot of a particular moment in time.
That moment is also captured by the album cover, an image of Goodman and Wisenbaker, either just pre or post marriage. It’s their relationship that informs many of these songs, so while they’re not as spiky as 2014’s Hour Of The Dawn, you can almost hear the complexities of a relationship in the compositions. Their first duet, ‘One True Love’, is a perfect example. Goodman’s soaring vocal acts as the antidote to Wisenbaker’s heartbreak and declaration that “she’s leaving me today”. It’s all played out over something that sounds suspiciously like a Johnny Marr guitar line. These songs are about love, but not in a newlywed sense, Goodman often looks to the past for clues as to what’s brought her to her current situation, there’s a personal nostalgia here that suits the arpeggiated guitars that propel these songs along.
Propel really is the right term too, opener ‘High Notes’ is performed with such gusto that the band constantly sound like they’re about to fall out of time with each other (they don’t), while Goodman sings “I’m sorry is this song too slow”. For all of the exploration of the intricacies of love in these songs, they also sound fun and breezy. The comparison to Johnny Marr isn’t an unintentional one either. Both Wisenbaker and Adams discussed their love of The Smiths prior to recording and the album is punctuated by moments that could be plucked from Marr’s composition book. It all plays into the overwhelming sense of nostalgia that Adams has captured on tape, his influence here is key to the album sounding as cohesive as it does.
Interestingly Music For Listening To Music To was a direct pre-cursor to Adams’ own 1989 project, which also featured Wisenbaker. I’d argue though that La Sera’s album is the stronger of the two records. Don’t be fooled either, while it’s a more collaborative effort Katy Goodman still remain front and centre here and she sounds better than she ever has.
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