Music for Listening to Music To
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Throughout ex-Vivian Girls’ singer Katy Goodman’s (aka La Sera) previous three releases, she morphed from dreamy pop to dreamy punk to dreamy psychedelia to dreamy garage rock, often combining a few of those, usually with gobs of reverb. But her soft focus, ’60s inspired vocals consistently kept “dreamy” a key element of Goodman’s style even as producers and approaches shifted. She changes things again on this fourth La Sera set.
Enter Ryan Adams (as producer) along with Adams’ side musician and Goodman’s recent husband/guitarist/co-songwriter Todd Wisenbaker (who produced and played guitar on her previous disc) and, as you see from the cover, now shares full La Sera billing. The resulting 10 tunes were recorded live to analog tape in a week that Adams had free between other commitments; combined they barely total 30 minutes.
The resulting La Sera sound moves into a slightly more country vibe, featuring Wisenbaker’s Johnny Marr inspired guitar lines that twang and throb throughout. As befits his new co-frontperson status, the guitarist adds vocals to three tunes but his dry, detached voice doesn’t bring much to the table. Whether due to the short recording window, or Adams’ vision, the album reveals a more stripped down, but not skeletal instrumentation. The live-in-the-studio tactic brings additional sparks which, on the duet “One True Love” and elsewhere, feels somewhat like the Velvet Underground’s debut with Goodman standing in for Nico or, more currently, Dean and Britta’s post Luna work.
It all coalesces in “Begins to Rain” that mixes spaghetti Western leads with jangle in a mid-tempo gem that’s finished in under three minutes. The finger picked guitar leading off “Shadow of Your Love” shifts to a heavier reverb-laden shimmer and brings a rootsy feel to Goodman’s ice-princess, shapeshifting vocals. The early R.E.M. sweet/tart qualities of the mid-tempo “Take My Heart” are another showcase for Wisenbaker’s guitar talents that, for better or worse, nearly overshadow those of Goodman even in his supporting role. When the duo rock it —well, rock in their own rather laid-back way — on “I Need an Angel”’s duet, we see a different side of the recently reshaped La Sera sound that resembles the Raveonettes, another male/female retro inspired duo,
These songs may take a few spins to connect and early fans of La Sera may need to open up to accept the revised style. But most will appreciate Wisenbaker’s higher profile input and Goodman’s ability to remain distinctive in the La Sera guise while maintaining the music’s chameleonic qualities and urging it forward in her still dreamy fashion.