In our recent chat with La Sera leader, Katy Goodman, she gives major kudos to guitarist Todd Wisenbaker for helping form the overall “power pop” flavor of this, La Sera’s third full-length. The jangle of Control and Kiss This Town Away do have echoes of that dawn-of-the-80s Byrds redux of the Romantics, Records, Shoes, etc. But it’s a couple years later and down in the same streets of Goodman’s current homebase, L.A., and the short-lived Paisley Underground scene that most closely makes for a useful retro-nod here. Most noticeably, Goodman’s voice. Finally free of the over-echo of her earlier work with the Vivian Girls, Goodman recalls prime Susanna Hoffs. But beyond the instant sugar rush of Cali-sun fun, jangly ’60s antecedents are swapped for the brighter ends of surging ’90s alt-rock like Dinosaur Jr. and Sugar (Losing To The Dark, 10 Headed Goat Wizard, Running Wild). Ultimately one of the mid-00s indie fuzz-pop progenitors proves she is, after all, a ’90s kid.
The album blasts off with the great Losing To The Dark, a killer kickstart of noisey guitar and singing about slapping. The soaring Kiss This Town Away gets a bit huffy too. The ex-mate chiding stings right along with the wiry guitar leads throughout. The opening of Summer Of Love is a perfect encapsulation. The jittery drums and bridge jutt right next to the airy vocals and flighty, summery licks. Wisenbaker’s shoulder-shaking solos keep every song rolling as they jump out, shove you and get back to hook-slinging most economically.
While Goodman is firmly ensconced in La-la-land, some of the quick, explosive guitar solos, scurrying tempos and tricky mix of melancholy melodies, hit-the-road hooks, and saddened lyrics still feel like the complex conundrums of classic New York City alley-pop. Fall In Place is like a Vivian Girls track compressed from coal into a shining diamond of ethereal jangle. The title track even has a kind of Feelies mantra-hook. And since we’re riding this ‘80s college rock love train, many of the guitar tones are straight from the left of the dial, circa 1987. Time to dust off some Wire Train and Reivers references. It’s nice to see a less obvious corner of the ongoing ’80s revival get spit-shined a bit.
The album title and bulk of Goodman’s lyrics suggest a new beginning, with some reflection for sour spice. Like in the title track: “Summertime was the time of my life, now it’s the hour of the dawn.” True, Goodman’s been on this track slowly but surely through the first two La Sera records already. The first was a kind of breather from Vivian Girls’ buzz-run, and 2012’s Sees The Light was an eeking out of the garage fumes. But Hour Of The Dawn feels like a door flung open, a melody-centered song cycle in the tradition of an artist finding a path away from their first band burst into something that can sustain them into the years where life gets more complex, yet where conversely the artistic impulse is often to strip away unessential noise and just get to the point already. The point here being: songs. Or as Goodman says in album highlight, Running Wild: “There’s no use in dying if you’ve never been alive.”
So taken as it is, this is a great summer’s coming album, the most fresh guitar pop record of the year, though it might be a bit too bright at times. The closer, Storm’s End, with angelic harmonized ghost vocals and some distant spoken word, is perfectly placed to lead into the next phase Goodman might be headed, hopefully something as catchy but with some added odd.