By Tre Simmons
In Vivian Girls, Katy “Kickball” Goodman, along with the rest of the band, were thoroughly capable of combining harmonious vocal melodies with scuzzy, lofi guitar riffs. Goodman propelled the band forward with her steady bass lines, and this same combination of power pop hooks and cherubic vocals continued on in her solo work as La Sera. Albums such as Sees The Light and Hour Of The Dawn proved that Goodman still had ample material and reasons to create music apart from the band that put her on the map, and she released some of her best music as the production quality of her albums and fan base continued to increase. La Sera’s upward trajectory is still in motion, with husband Todd Wisenbaker and producer/altcountry star Ryan Adams at the helm of their new album, increasing the clarity and sonic prettiness of Music For
Music for Listening to Music to goes beyond her previous works. What hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact has taken a step backwards, is the songwriting and ability to maintain a listener’s attention.
To be clear, nothing is inherently wrong with the songs on Music for Listening to Music to. The album starts pleasantly enough with “High Notes,” and there’s truth in advertising here; the rollicking, twangy altcountry song is indeed a highlight on this collection. Equally good is centerpiece “Take My Heart,” as La Sera slow the tempo for an arpeggiated slow dance and lovelorn lyrics such as, “Take on my love/close your eyes and say/do you believe in me?” La Sera have always been handy with pleasantly beach or road trip ready songs that you can let waft in the air as you enjoy time spent with loved ones. This pleasantness, however, turns to inoffensive, and outright boring songs throughout Music For, especially when the newly found country leanings of these songs (courtesy of Ryan Adams) of these songs grow stale, as well as the addition of her husband’s vocals on the occasional solo or duet track. Wisenbaker has a serviceable voice, and is much along the line of many an indie rock front man, with a slightly nasal, whiny tone to his singing. This works well when expressing discontent with relationships and life, as bands such as Weezer, Shapes & Sizes, and many others have done it in the past. Here, however, Wisenbaker is content to channel in much the same lazy day vocal stylings as his wife, and neither elevate these songs to anything revelatory, or even to past highlights. Goodman has a knack for maintaining a listener’s interest; “Please Be My Third Eye” and, really, the majority of Sees The Light and Hour Of The Dawn were littered with undeniably catchy hooks in every direction. This is what makes Music For Listening To Music To so disappointing. We know La Sera are capable of delivering more, but they simply don’t throughout much of the album.
Despite its shortcomings, Music for Listening to Music to is still a slightly above average indie rock album. The production is pristine, and, if anything, it would be perfect background music to soundtrack a summer or time spent with people one truly cares about; it’s just a substantial step down from La Sera’s previous works that make this album less vital than what came before it. If everyone involved had taken more risks in any direction (such as the build in the aptly titled “Too Little Too Late” that unfortunately leads to nothing,) Music For could have continued the streak La Sera have been on since Goodman introduced her band and solo voice to the world. As of now, however, there is a slight dip in energy and quality to their work. Every band is entitled to missteps here and there, but hopefully Music for Listening to Music to isn’t a catalyst for steadily diminishing returns for Goodman and company.