La Sera’s New Album Reimagines the Dream-Pop Band as an Alternative-Country Duo

  • By Jessie Schiewe
  • Wed May 18th, 2016 6:00pm
  • MusicMusic
La Sera (Julia Brokaw)

Three days before Halloween 2010, a relatively new and unheard-of band from Brooklyn called La Sera released a music video titled “Never Come Around” on YouTube. Bloody handwriting, dead bodies, and dismembered limbs — the work of a pretty redhead with a thick veil of bangs and darkly lined eyes — abound throughout. In the background, chord instruments battle with drums on a jangly, retro dream-pop tune. And above it all rises the murderer’s voice: a high-pitched, saccharine-sweet falsetto full of innocence, naiveté, and — most importantly — elation.

For years, La Sera founder and frontwoman Katy Goodman performed as a bassist and backup vocalist for the indie-rock band Vivian Girls. But when she started writing songs on her own, she began to accumulate material that didn’t fit in with Vivian Girls’ sound, like the aforementioned “Never Come Around,” so she branched out with a solo project. Though she remained in Vivian Girls until the band’s breakup in 2014, La Sera (which now includes her guitarist-husband Todd Wisenbaker) was, and continues to be, Goodman’s main focus and songwriting outlet.

In March, La Sera released its fourth album, Music For Listening to Music To, an Americana- and rockabilly-seeped record produced by renowned alt-country hitmaker Ryan Adams. The title is inspired by the financial struggles of being a musician and the sad reality that the best way to make money is to license your music for commercial use. Goodman’s album bucks many of the trends that you hear in the music industry today (like Auto-Tune and metronome) and consists of songs that were crafted solely for music’s sake, a point that the singer-songwriter-guitarist is adamant about.

“The title of our record is meant to convey that this music was specifically not made for licensing,” she said by email. “That in no way means that we are anti-licensing; we just believe that music made specifically for listening lacks a certain degree of authenticity.”

As is her habit, Goodman embarked in new territory in Music For Listening to Music To. Both La Sera’s self-titled debut and its sophomore album contained stripped-down, simple pop ditties about love had and love lost, while the third album was a faster, heavier rocker produced with more instrumentation and edge. With Music For Listening to Music To, La Sera ventures into the realm of alternative-country, albeit through the same retro lens that Goodman applies to all her albums. The entirety of the album is peppered with twangy “down South” guitar, and the tempos range from drawling, slow-dance numbers to mid-tempo, driving-down-the-highway-staring-at-fields songs to “Grab a partner and get on the dance floor, ya’ll” tunes. The album also marks a transformation in Goodman’s voice from breathy cooing to heartier, plaintive croon.

Despite the genre change, Goodman says the album is not an indicator that the band is going in a new direction — or that it is still struggling to find its sound. Rather, it’s a reflection of the punk ethos that the band was founded on: a fuck-it-let’s-do-whatever-we-want mentality that has guided Goodman through each new album.

“Those are the influences we fall back on when making decisions,” she said. “After all, punk is an attitude, not just a genre of music.”

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