Vivian Girl steps out on her own and makes the best record of her career.
It’s only natural to fear the worst when an integral part of a relatively big, relatively niche, band announces a side project. So, anyone who had any doubts about “Kickball Katy” Goodman, the Vivian Girls’ bassist, and her latest project, La Sera, is probably still letting out a long sigh of relief two albums in. Why the Vivian Girls inspire that amount of devotion in the first place is somewhat confusing but that’s besides the point. Point being, Sees the Light is a pretty great record and a very welcome surprise from a still-developing young artist. Sees the Light not only takes the right parts from the right influences but stands up on its own as well. It’s a solid testament to Goodman’s vision and excels in its restraint and commitment to the sunny west-coast early surf/pop aesthetic it so expertly emulates.
Sees the Light begins in a surprisingly frail fashion, with the slow-burning “Love That’s Gone”. Everything on this track works perfectly, bridging the memorable melody with memorable lyrics, sung delicately for extra impact. It’s strangely soothing and gives La Sera’s sound a nice twist with some fantastic guitar-work thrown in for good measure. “Love That’s Gone” is easily one of the most soothing tracks anyone’s likely to hear this year on a punk-tinged LP. Right out of the gate with Sees the Light Goodman proves herself as a lyricist and subsequently blasts any thoughts of overwhelming melancholia straight to hell with “Please Be My Third Eye”, an undeniably propulsive surf/punk rave-up. It’s the perfect short blast, concise, energetic, and entertaining, filling Sees the Light with sudden potential.
“I Can’t Keep You In My Mind” affirms the power of that potential instantly, offering a perfect hybrid of the opening two tracks and presenting an easy album highlight. There’s something about the way everything comes together in this song that really makes it the best representation of not only Sees the Light but La Sera as well. Nearly every trick La Sera uses on Sees the Light is used to its strongest effect throughout the course of “I Can’t Keep You In My Mind”, which proves to be both a blessing and a curse. Since that lone song exploits those tricks potential to their absolute fullest, when they appear elsewhere in the album it’s not quite as immediate, engaging, or powerful. Thankfully, that slight complaint is essentially the only main one to be found with Sees the Light.
When the album hits its mid-section the songs, while remaining distinct, do start to become faceless entities that blend into one another and offer no real standout moments, just solid ones pleasant enough to keep the listener on the line. The songwriting is still exceptional here but in the slower pacing that Sees the Light decides to bring out most prominently here, gets a little lost. “Real Boy” does its best to get things back on track and offers a good platform for Sees the Light to explode in its final act, which La Sera capitalizes on to a certain extent by offering the most brilliant left turns in this stretch.
“Drive On” takes a decidedly darker tone than the sunny atmosphere previously incorporated to great effect on Sees the Light, offering up a chorus that could actually be considered haunting. It’s a small vivid moment that artfully articulates a balance between light and dark and subsequently becomes one of Sees the Light‘s most memorable songs. “How Far We’ve Come Now” sees the light fading and plummeting things to even darker places. It’s an unrelentingly bleak piece in tone but balances itself out with somewhat hopeful lyrics that look both to the past and present. There’s a moment towards the three quarters mark where a razor-sharp guitar solo cuts through everything and makes the song really jump out. It’s a brilliant moment that for a moment elevates Sees the Light to near transcendence.
While the closing song, “Don’t Stay”, doesn’t match that kind of heights it does make good use of its position and puts a fitting end cap on the proceedings. It’s another slow song in the vein of the songs that hit during the mid-section but still can’t surpass the opening track in terms of strength. In a lot of ways “Don’t Stay” is the most indicative track in regards to what Sees the Light stands as which is simply a good album that never overstays its welcome and offers a nice reprieve to those in need of something light but still a little memorable.
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