On the opening track of Music for Listening to Music To (a title that’s either charmingly self deprecating, or clumsily awkward, depending on one’s mood), High Notes Katy Goodman sings “time waits for no man”. The album certainly sounds impatient, as though the pretence of concept was ignored for the simple joys of laying down a series of songs. It feels like an album born during transition and movement, restless in its energy, but also lacking the staying power of something more considered.
Produced by folk-rock star de jour Ryan Adams, Music for Listening to Music To incorporates some new influences for the group. Instead of just the hazy pop punk that made the group successful (although that’s certainly the main element), the album incorporates elements of alternative country. The rollicking guitar strumming on the opening track is simply fun, and Goodman’s passionate vocals recall Neko Case. The track has a kind of movement and energy that their previous work never quite had, and the country elements are a good fit for the band.
Other tracks fit the dream pop template of bands like Real Estate, although perhaps without the emotional impact of their stronger work. The fuzzed out, dramatic chords of Begins to Rain fill the sonic space, but the track lacks a strong vocal hook. The guitars become the centre of the song in a way they’re not necessarily supposed to, and the vocals fade into the background. Unfortunately, many of the tracks suffer from this same lack of remarkable melody, such as on Take My Heart, which has a pleasingly phased-out guitar line, but doesn’t have the emotion to justify its slower tempo.
Whilst the very quick and improvised feel of the album is initially exhilarating, as the album continues, that feeling dissipates into a sense that it could have used a more coherent concept. Perhaps it’s an easy-listening album by design, but that doesn’t mean it has any more impact. The tragedy of Music for Listening to Music To, is that whilst it is a fun, pretty, and well produced album, it’s those very qualities that make it so easy for it to just wash right past you.