THE CASUAL DEFLECTION of the title Music for Listening to Music To, La Sera's fourth full-length, might read as impersonal or nonchalant. Maybe it is—but even so, on their new record frontwoman Katy Goodman, former bassist of Vivian Girls, and her husband Todd Wisenbaker joyously celebrate making music for music's sake.
Music for Listening to Music To sounds hugely different from the band's previous releases. La Sera's bones haven't changed much from older albums—there's still a healthy balance of blistering guitar-pop love songs and somber dirges to burned-out romances. But they've thrown garage-pop fuzz to the wind—the new record's production is pristine and the guitar riffs are much janglier, while Goodman's voice is unadorned and center stage.
"Ryan Adams produced the album, and that was one of the main things he wanted to change on this record," she says. "He said, 'Your voice should be clearer, and people should be able to hear the lyrics more.'"
This newfound focal point lets Goodman's voice soar on the honky-tonk opener "High Notes." "I threw a look over my shoulder towards the guys who look dissatisfied/I'm sorry, is this song too slow?" she sings wryly.
Music for Listening to Music To is at once highly performative and cheekily self-aware—the title acts as a barrier even as it holds the audience's attention with a sly, knowing wink. In the music video for "High Notes," Goodman performs at the monster-infested "Midnight Variety Roundup," a twist on the televised Grand Ole Opry appearances of country greats like Dolly Parton and June Carter Cash.
But there's something more reckless about the new album, like La Sera ventured to early-'70s Joshua Tree to get high with Gram Parsons on Cap Rock. "My friend told me once, 'A song is a song and then it can wear a lot of different outfits.' Production is the outfit you put onto the song," Goodman says. If that's true, then these La Sera songs sound like they've been fitted for Nudie Suits.
It's likely that producer and Americana nostalgic Ryan Adams is at least partly responsible for this two-step into a new genre. But Goodman also credits her husband for the shift, rattling off his country inspirations like Dwight Yoakam. Although he's been playing with La Sera for a while, Wisenbaker's influence is much more noticeable on this new album, both in his intricate, lonesome riffs and his presence on duets like "One True Love" and "I Need an Angel."
"Todd is really into that sort of outlaw country stuff... That's the kind of stuff he plays for like, 10 hours a day in our living room," Goodman says. "We let Todd loose, kinda."
Music for Listening to Music To is sonically satisfying—with Wisenbaker's professional noodling and Goodman's limber voice situated at the forefront, the move from the garage to the stage feels like a natural progression. This spotlight accentuates the duo's strongest attributes as musicians, but also seems to result in a more withdrawn, detached tone in their songwriting. La Sera makes up for it with their easygoing experimentation with alt-country, delivering devastatingly catchy pop songs with a new old-fashioned flair. From start to finish, Music for Listening to Music To is exactly as promised.