In Casati’s wide-eyed vision of folk music, there’s a refreshing absence of whisky and murdered wives — rather, the trio crafts a gentler world, one that sidesteps the genre’s more obvious tropes in favour of something far sunnier.
The songs on This Is Just To Say, while tied to bluegrass and folk traditions, wouldn’t sound at home on a sweat-soaked bar stage. Instead, they occupy a space more akin to that on the record’s cover — a light-soaked white room, all clean air and echoes.
There’s an element of deconstructed pop to what Grace Hrabi, Jesse Popeski and Quintin Bart do — whispers of twee ’90s indie abound with simple, timeless melodies rendered slightly alien by their multitudes of empty space.
The ghosts of bands like the Softies float on the periphery of This Is Just To Say, mingling with the more obvious bluegrass and folk influences to create a spacious, light-as-air kind of coffee shop folk-pop.
Completely percussionless, the record is grounded instead by downward strums, the dropping stone of double bass and the occasional tick of hurdy-gurdy.
The trio’s lyrical content is refreshing, if not particularly stirring.
There’s none of the cognitive dissonance that sometimes accompanies young traditionalist bands — the feeling that you’re listening to middle-class 20-somethings sing of hardships never experienced and intentionally presenting as well below their means.
Instead, Casati blends time-worn folk themes — traveling, heartbreak — with personal narratives and 21st century specificities.
The lilting title track speaks to a particular sort of domestic trouble — unexamined impatience and constant misunderstandings. Modernity creeps in at various moments, most obviously on the sprightly techno-pessimist pep talk “H.D.T.V Ctrl U.”
However, even as the band makes sometimes intriguing shapes with the rubble of country and folk, the record eventually succumbs to a slightly burdensome sweetness. The lack of grit, whether earned or not, begins to wear as the album progresses.
While capable and appropriate for the songs they occupy, none of Casati’s three vocalists have particularly dynamic voices — all three croon with a sweet simplicity, with little depth or blood to their calming speak-singing.
It’s perhaps telling that the most compelling song here is the penultimate “Train,” a strange, wordless piece of anxiety that feels out of step with the record’s musically mellow atmosphere.
Incorporating eastern chord patterns and a strange, percussive hurdy-gurdy rhythm, it provides a jolt of haunted momentum at record’s end, as if the album’s hints of restlessness have all suddenly come to a head.
Once all that nervous energy has been dispersed, Casati closes things out on the gentle doo-wop of “You Really Don’t Know How To Care.” It’s a softly bruising way to end such a contented-sounding record — an encapsulation of Casati’s strengths as they dress up a biting put-down in the softest of outfits.
And while the overtly agreeable rhythms of This Is Just To Say might prove too mild for some, those searching for simple pleasures sung sweetly will find much to love.