ALBUM: Hour of the Dawn
ARTIST: La Sera
Katy Goodman may have been the secret weapon in Vivian Girls. If Cassie Ramone was the forefront with her reedy vocals and reverb-drenched guitar, then Kickball Katy was the anchor, helping reconcile the band's love of Sixties guitar pop and noisy indie rock with her harmonies and deft bass work. Remember the intro to "Take It As It Comes"?
At the same time, it's Goodman's work outside of the band that revealed her as a music geek in love with pop music, her music as La Sera a testament to her influences and an exhibition of her fantastic songwriting abilities. So with Hour of the Dawn, the third La Sera album and the first since the dissolution of Vivian Girls, we find Goodman looking to raise the stakes. Once the goal was to write summer-soaked pop songs, now there needs to be the involvement of some gravitas.
In attempting to achieve that, Hour of the Dawn is a bit of a head scratcher at first. While the initial promo campaign hinted that the album would have an aggressive punk quality to it, "Leslie Gore fronting Black Flag" being the quote in question, this isn't entirely correct. In some parts, there is a level of darkness not found in previous La Sera albums. The production is beefier and Goodman's new backing band have the chops of realizing Goodman's vision. The lofi noise-pop stylings of the past are replaced by something far more muscular. Listening to lead single "Losing to the Dark", with its guitar fretboard fireworks and lyrics evoking spite towards a former lover, you can't help but feel like she nailed it and then some. Yet as hard-hitting that track is, Goodman's pop sensibilities still remain. Instead of a Black Flag-inspired album of odes to love and the romances that inspire and break them, what we actually get is an after-hours take on surf rock.
One of the highlights of previous album Sees the Light was the ease Goodman found herself moving from musical stylings like a new homeowner in love with several different wallpaper options. From bubblegum garage to shoegaze to pop punk, Goodman's lithe and fluttering voice and knack with melodies were the focal points that kept the album from collapsing unto itself. Hour of the Dawn, in comparison, feels tighter and concise. It's a collection of well-focused pop songs, but as tight as it is, there are still experiments and those tend to contain some of the most exciting moments of the album. "Control" is La Sera going for New Wave, while “Storm’s End” is a hell of a closer, the surf guitar lead and wall of harmonies evoking images of doom on a sun-ridden beach time forgot. And did we already discuss the jaw-dropping chorus of "Losing to the Dark"?
If anything, Hour of the Dawn comes across as one-dimensional at times, the desert imagery stretching at points. The best songs on Sees the Light breezed on with an exuberant ease and while Hour of the Dawn has a deft sophistication to it, it's no substitute for instituting excitement. But it’s hard to complain when you’re talking about Katy Goodman, who’s proven she can still write a song better than most people. With Hour of the Dawn, the ball’s still in her court.
"My heart’s a waste."