Music for Listening to Music To is a strange misnomer that feels like something straight from Inception. For one, the title states that these are the tunes one would listen to before immersing themselves in something grander in scale. It’s like walking from the kiddie pool and spreading one’s limbs as they cross into deeper depths. Thankfully, La Sera aren’t that shallow and simple when it comes to their sound. Those expecting bar jams to the LA rockers’ new record, however, will be disappointed.
The images that Music for Listening to Music To barrages one with are hot and dusty in nature, bringing one into lone star joints settled in the middle of nowhere. The switches between day and night aren’t as clear, instead admiring the dusk more than the sunny mornings. The band experience their music like a drive in a car, hula girl figurine dancing by the dashboard. The road is long and vocalist Katy Goodman is moody for a little sing-along over drinks and a rowdy bunch biker gangs. Picture Lucy Rose’s video for “Bikes” but actually conveying the mood of a bar. In this manner, La Sera feel like they’ve developed, finding the dimension of melancholy that they might be able to call home. Past tracks from Sees the Light like “Love That’s Gone” and “It’s Over Now” initiated this style along with tunes that can elicit jams. On this road of consistency, the band find direction they can be comfortable in for now.
La Sera have found this comfort within the sound of country and folk, specifically in Bob Dylan records. The shortcoming to this is lacking an edge that made previous hits glow with social depth. On Hour of the Dawn when she sang about the notion of being passed out in the bar scene (“Losing to the Dark”), instrumentation contains a witchy quality to its distortion and its bang. Its hints of date rape have a gravity to them that wouldn’t be diffused by a track called “10 Headed Goat Wizard”. Like the title of the former track, La Sera are indeed losing to the dark in this album, but that doesn’t make them emotionless slaves to time.
Intro track “High Notes” has the sarcastic tiredness of a lounge singer finally cracking at the face of critique. Its fast strings substitute the genuine spark of love or hate that Goodman and Todd Wisenbaker lack, and emotional exhaustion is not a cause of defence because there’s no narrative. Tracks become simple love songs in themselves, with rhetoric that love has an omnipotent quality not striking the nerves it wants to hit (“A Thousand Ways”). Yet the best thing about such a song is its ability to draw on strings and percussion that would make a prom king and queen cradle each other à la Steve and Laurie from American Graffiti. It feels stolen from Mac DeMarco, yet it sounds even more ready for a slow dance, like the later track “Take My Heart” and its arpeggiated strings. Goodman doesn’t posit herself as a refined lyricist within the record, but she does more than well in accidentally conveying a mood. If you listen to each “Take My heart”, you can hear the actual heartbreak in her voice. Common indie fare aside, this is a splendid moment.
Wisenbaker’s vocal contributions within Music for Listening to Music to lack the same impact that Goodman’s has. That said, he channels the cool of Dylan well while ’80s guitar strings perform their best rendition of what country punk might sound like (“I Need An Angel”). Guitars find freedom in such a track because they express an on the road quality to them–and like things on the dusty road, you never know what you’ll see or hear. This freedom lasts on “Time to Go”, with its consistent love for speed and double-take worthy lyric about a driver trying to rear-end Goodman out of anger. No one in the band delivers the air of a menacing attitude, yet these shades are still nice to note.
Music for Listening to Music to is surprising in that it hits the thresholds of likeability and then runs away from the conceptual bar in favor of speeding faster than light. It might dabble in simplicity to a fault, but it makes up for it with instinctual choices like rusty strings and perfect harmonics (“Shadow of Your Love”). For each mistake — whether an arbitrary choice to include a harmonica (“High Notes”) or a dull line here and there (“Nineties” being a large mistake) — the band pull something like a MacGuffin. Upon early listens, the thought of assuming that Goodman was robotic in feeling lingered in the background, and numbness couldn’t explain it. Yet it’s in the sonic escapades and possible boxed-in life of the band that shows aptitude. Who knew that the music for listen to music to was depressing?