“The Bluest Star” is an Indie Pop Throwback With Lots of Heart

One of my favorite albums from 2016 was Free Cake For Every Creature’s Talking Quietly of Anything With You, a charming little 22-minute home recording that was a welcome throwback to heart-on-your-sleeve indie pop artists like Rose Melberg. Katie Bennett’s band is back with The Bluest Star, which expands on her songwriting vision while maintaining its winning, genuine appeal.

“Genuine” is the word I always come back to with Free Cake, and it’s a bit of a subjective thing that not everyone even cares about. When I listen to Bennett’s music, I feel like she believes everything that she says and it’s coming from a real place. This isn’t just because it’s lo-fi home recorded music, but because of how she writes and performs: her lyrics are peppered with little details that help insert the listener into her world, and she sings them as if she’s whispering secrets in your ear.

Compared to the brevity of her last album, The Bluest Star almost feels sprawling with its 14 songs and 38 minutes. It mostly stays true to the style she established on previous efforts, but the extra space lets Bennett develop something of a universe of her own, complete with a roster of rich characters and small moments of pathos. While not strictly connected in a single linear story, there is a sense of a narrative woven together by all of the songs, which look back on long car rides, romances, and friendships.

While many artists focus on small details in their lyrics, Bennett likes to look at the littler things within the little things. “Be Home Soon” is about a ride home from work and starts with a perfect character moment: “eating Clementines on the  subway/put the peels on my blue jeans.” Another highlight, “Sunday Afternoon,” needs fewer words to describe a perfect lazy day where she is “washed in the nothing, happily.” Those blissful songs are matched by sadder tunes like “Goodbye, Unsilently” which describe the other end of friendships as they fade away.

The focus on smallness also applies to the music, which is mostly a humble mix of reverbed guitar and light percussion (as well as that nice banjo part on “In Your Car”). It isn’t overly ambitious, but it is another step forward for Bennett, who has found the right sound to showcase her lyrics instead of burying them beneath a bunch of musical tricks. Everything in her music just fits together really well, and it’s why The Bluest Star feels so honest and real compared to a lot of contemporary indie pop.

#13: Free Cake For Every Creature – “Talking Quietly of Anything With You”

Most year-end lists focus on albums that make broad, sweeping statements about culture in an attempt to sum up “2016 in music.” My lists always look different because I tend to dislike those albums. Instead, my favorites are like Free Cake For Every Creature’s Talking Quietly of Anything With You — small, intimate albums that carve out a little space for themselves and the listener without self-consciously trying to feel “important.”

Free Cake For Every Creature is the brainchild of Philadelphia singer-songwriter Katie Bennett, who comes from the Rose Melberg school of indie pop. Like Melberg’s first band, Tiger Trap, Talking Quietly of Anything With You has a lot of fuzzy pop songs about feelings and a youthful, energetic sound. It’s a style often reductively labeled as “twee,” but I have a soft spot for this style of indie pop, which (when done well) feels really genuine.

Bennett’s style of singing helps make the album feel more intimate; she sometimes approaches more of a whisper, like a friend who is telling you her secrets. Her sharp lyrics capture the feeling of being young and the whirlwind of feelings and experiences you have that you don’t necessarily understand yet. She’s also funny, and a lot of what made this album stand out for me was its warmth and optimism — Talking Quietly About Anything With You is kind of like a musical hug.