La Sera Hits Low and High Notes

Photo courtesy of In case, Flikr Creative Commons

The title of La Sera’s fourth album, “Music for Listening to Music To,” may seem thoughtless to the uninformed listener, but the noise-pop duo has never before put as much effort into an album than they have on the latest release.

For frontwoman Katy Goodman – still referred to as Kickball Katy from her former Vivian Girls days – “Music for Listening” may just be the exact album her career calls for. From her recent marriage to songwriting partner and band mate Todd Wisenbaker to a straight week of production with new collaborator Ryan Adams, “Music for Listening” finds Goodman shedding the last few remnants of her garage-punk past, as the well-established Adams lends a more polished platform for La Sera to play on.

The alt-country twang of the album’s lead single “High Notes” must have confounded long-time listeners when first released back in December. Eschewing La Sera’s punk-influenced dream pop, “High Notes” points the album forward while maintaining the band’s warm, summery spirit.

“I threw a look over my shoulder towards the guys who look dissatisfied – I'm sorry, is this song too slow?,” Goodman snaps in a single steady breath to anyone expecting the expected. This cutting, playful confidence is the most punk rock part of the album, even on the song’s campy rodeo-meets-B-movie music video. Four albums into La Sera and more than a decade in the industry, Goodman knows who she is as an artist. She’s here to please herself.

First listen of “Music for Listening” may call to mind Best Coast’s botched attempt at combining California sun and country with 2012’s “The Only Place,” but Goodman is a bit more cultured with her bicoastal lifestyle. Perhaps it’s some remaining East Coast cynicism in New Jersey native Goodman clashing with her California prerogative, but “Music for Listening” often finds Goodman in classic country melancholia, only furthered by Wisenbaker’s instrumentals and Adams’ production values. “Begins to Rain” finds Goodman dwelling on past love, while “A Thousand Ways” finds her hopeful in the love she is home in. However dejected or euphoric, these tracks are equally fitting on summer playlists as they are in Nashville jukeboxes.

As confident and playful as it is, “Music for Listening” has more than a few low notes, as well. For one, guitarist Wisenbaker admirably takes on vocals on “I Need an Angel” and “Nineties,” but his Bob Dylan-esque mumble is often unintelligible and uninspired when compared to Goodman’s yearning head voice. Wisenbaker’s vocals paired with the production just make these select tracks veer a little close to sounding like a Ryan Adams B-side. And while the new country drawl is welcome on the album, there’s a punch missing from “Music for Listening” that leaves the listener underwhelmed by the end. However, the playful nature of “Music for Listening” surprisingly makes for La Sera’s most consistent album to date.