I think we’ve all met a girl like La Sera’s Katy Goodman. She probably sat in front of you in high school chemistry class, running her fingers through the back of her hair and smiling knowing that every guy in class was looking at her. Except Goodman remained cool after high school, playing bass in the punk-girl three-piece Vivian Girls and writing songs about evil surfer boys and dying on her wedding night.
Goodman has said that her solo debut, La Sera, was influenced by the ‘50s and ‘60s vocal pop that she heard coming from her parents’ stereo as a child. The skeleton of that sound certainly is here: none of the songs break the three-minute mark; the melodies are light, simple, and carried by Goodman’s dreamy harmonies; and there’s even a wall of sound or two on the album’s standout singles, “Never Come Around” and “Devils Hearts Grow Gold.” That’s the good news. With the exception of the five or so minutes that make up those singles, La Sera has all the charm of a routine dental cleaning.
I don’t take issue with that fact that almost all of the songs on the album sound the same. Robert Christgau rightly said that Andrew W.K.‘s I Get Wet‘s one flaw was that all of the song’s didn’t sound the same. What W.K. and a band like the Ramones had on their side, despite the relative simplicity which they share with La Sera, was guts and personality: You were either going to join the blitzkrieg and whip your hair back and forth or Johnny and Dee Dee were going to die on stage trying to get you to. I get that Goodman is supposed to sound detached on La Sera, that it’s part of the “menace” of having sunny melodies paired with lyrics about hugging someone until they die, but the musicianship is often so flat and the songwriting so lackadaisical that it more often than not simply sounds phoned in.
Goodman sings, “I saw right through your eyes/I saw through darkened skies/You’re going to cry” on “You’re Going to Cry” from a nervous, massive distance, probably intentionally, but the awkward guitar-strumming and plodding instrumentation makes her come across like an inexperienced singer-songwriter premiering the song for the first time at a local coffee house. That comes as a surprise considering how seasoned Goodman is, but almost every track on La Sera floats in one ear and out the other without leaving much of an impression.
“Never Come Around” is everything La Sera aspires to be: childishly simple, monstrously addictive, deviously sunny. The track’s got that monolithic Spector-esque production this kind of girl-pop craves, letting the drums take up lots of space in the mix rather than putting the guitars front and center. “Devils Hearts Grow Gold” also works well by opening up the sprawl that comes from a well-used studio, with Goodman sounding genuinely playful striding through the song with a touch of coy malice. Those singles stand out so clearly as La Sera‘s best moments that it makes me wonder why Goodman was so determined to record an entire album around them. Hell, the Ronettes and the Crystals were about as far away from “album” acts as you can get, but their music has lodged itself permanently into our musical consciousness regardless because of how successfully they mastered such a huge sound in miniscule bursts, and La Sera should take a cue from that model. If the album format is really dying, then Goodman’s got a good shot at cornering the market of 21st-century Shangri-La candy pop, but she should do it two minutes at a time.