Those that have been following Katie Bennett’s Free Cake For Every Creature project since the beginning have been able to bear witness to her songwriting maturation in inspired bursts. The highlights of her lengthy self-recorded output so far — young professional, the full-band “pretty good”, last year’s moving songs — have been satisfying stepping stones leading up to Talking Quietly Of Anything With You. It’s the first time the group has outsourced the recording process, returning to their upstate New York roots to record at Salvation Recording Co. with Chris Daly, who was also behind the boards for Long Beard and Fraternal Twin’s recent jumps from primarily bedroom recordings to something with a little more sparkle. Talking Quietly fleshes out songs from past releases and packages them with a few new ones to create what feels like Free Cake’s first definitive artistic statement.
Throughout its existence, Free Cake has been marked by change. Though not much about Bennett’s intimately diaristic free association writing has altered (except that it’s only gotten stronger with time), you can sense the person behind the songs has been transforming a great deal. Bennett’s last release, moving songs, established a personality that both thrives in and retreats into a transitory existence, one that doesn’t settle down in a single place for too long. And true to that nature, Talking Quietly is mostly about moving to a new city and finding your place within it. The music warbles with the anxieties of having to uproot so often, but the lyrics are steadfast and optimistic. Closing song “Still Movin’,” which looks back on Bennett’s “ten years of in-between” contains the refrain: “I’m still movin’/ I’m not where I wanna be/ But I’m open to possibilities. The opening title track sounds a little more tired — “We’re not old, but we’re getting older,” she muses.
Moving to a new place often causes you to reflect on your past, contextualizing it with where you are now, and a lot of the songs on Talking Quietly poke at that feeling that new experiences can make you feel like you’re a child all over again. “Chubby Cows,” repurposed from a previous release, sees Bennett “drawing chubby cows in my journal” at the age of 22, complete with barnyard moos in the background. On “Susie (Now I’m Cryin’),” she reflects on an exhilarating childhood friendship/crush marked by compromise: “You thought you found god in a U2 song/ And I didn’t even question it/ Susie, now I’m cryin’/ Listened even though I didn’t like them.” Bennett also returns to the ideas of firsts often throughout the record — “First Summer In A City,” “First Storm Of The Summer” — and imbues both with the dewy glow of discovery.
Free Cake’s introverted twee-pop isn’t revelatory, but it does contain lots of revelations that make everything feel fresh. Bennett specializes in pinprick observations, left to sit there and settle in. “Love’s an onion ring/ Burn my tongue but it tastes sweet,” she sings on one. “It was a good end to an okay day,” she closes plaintively on another. Nowhere does Bennett’s zest for life shine through brighter than on “So Much Strange To Give,” a jumpy and nervous ode to the weirdos in all of us: “Crack open another can of beans/ Cheers to friends we’ve yet to meet/ I’ll pray they forgive my reclusive tendencies/ We’ve all got so much strange to give.”