If anyone was afraid that marriage (to band-mate Todd Wisenbaker) and Ryan Adams production were going to dull Katy Goodman's talents, you were worried for nothing. If anything, things are sharper here on the brief and concise Music For Listening To Music To, out Friday on Polyvinyl. Unlike March 2012's Sees The Light, or 2014's Hour of the Dawn, this album is less fuzzy and more melodic. And for an act like La Sera who were already riding high in terms of melodic power, that's high praise indeed.
"High Notes" kicks things off with a slight twang before the near-ballad "A Thousand Ways" shuffles blissfully past. Sounding uncannily like Pam Berry of Black Tambourine and Glo-Worm in spots on this release, Katy Goodman has refined her approach into something direct and affecting. And, at least this time out, the vocal duties are shared on "I Need an Angel" and the result is nothing so much as a blending of The Smiths and Johnny Cash thanks to Wisenbaker joining in. That rockabilly rush of "Rusholme Ruffians" pushed further into true country territory, this cut is one of the clear stand-outs on Music For Listening To Music To.
Elsewhere, "Shadow of Your Love" offers up a kind of gentle mournfulness that seems like a new style for Goodman and her band-mate compared to the noisier tracks on the first 2 La Sera releases. Make no mistake, the beloved indie that informed and influenced Vivian Girls is still here but the songs are more traditional -- if that makes any sense -- and less bits of near-shoegaze pop. "Begins to Rain", for example, wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early Lloyd Cole and the Commotions album. The palette and techniques have reached further out this time around and Goodman and Wisenbaker are to be commended for taking a few risks on this one even as they have, in some ways, stripped things back. The production by the acclaimed Ryan Adams keeps things simple too.
Music For Listening To Music To is going to show up on a lot of Best of 2016 lists in about 10 months. It's not too early to say that. Perhaps surprised at how different the tone is on this album compared to their earlier collections of indie, real fans -- and new fans -- of Katy Goodman will eat this one up all the same. Simple, direct, lyrical, and heartfelt, the music on Music For Listening To Music To is a clever melange of country, folk, and even C86 stuff. Katy Goodman and Todd Wisenbaker -- La Sera -- have made perhaps their best album yet.