There are few things scarier than playing it straight. Just ask Atlanta’s Faye Webster, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter who’s spent the last seven or so years wilfully defying genre norms, sharing folk songs via left-field hip-hop imprint Awful Records and sneaking alternative R&B in front of alt-rock audiences.
Add to that a self-deprecating streak that’s spawned lyrical gems such as “Even my tears have gone room temperature” (from 2019’s ‘Room Temperature’) and “My dog is my best friend, and he doesn’t even know what my name is” (‘Johnny’, released the same year), and Webster’s subversive approach seems pretty much hard-wired by this point. It’s a combination that’s paid off, too: her last album, ‘Atlanta Millionaires Club’, was the best-reviewed of her career, and ‘Better Distractions’ from this new record was one of Barack Obama’s favourite songs of 2020.
Of course, insouciance and self-deprecation are all well and good under normal circumstances, but what happens when – to quote Cher in Clueless – you’re majorly, totally, butt-crazy in love? The answers lie on ‘I Know I’m Funny haha’, Webster’s fourth, most straight-down-the-line full-length release.
“I didn’t know that I was capable of being happy right now / But you showed me how,” she coos with zero trace of irony on ‘In A Good Way’. ‘Better Distractions’ finds her flat-out lovesick, mooning over an absent lover via the gentle tinkle of piano and sighing slide guitar. On the title track, Webster is desperate to impress her partner’s family at dinner, but takes the titular description as some small consolation.
Wry self-deprecation and biting wit are still hardwired into Webster’s story-telling (‘A Dream With A Baseball Player’ details her teen crush on Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr), but overall there’s a level of honesty at play here that she might previously have found alarming. And that conformity extends into her songwriting, which largely finds her sidelining her more experimental impulses to focus on Americana, lounge music and lush, retro-leaning soft-rock.
There are shades of Virginia singer-songwriter Natalie Prass in Webster’s pillow-soft tones, which remain as heavenly as ever, and are particularly bewitching caressing the stripped-back balladry of ‘Half Of Me’. And she sounds even better on ‘Cheers’, her sweetly tremulous delivery contrasted beautifully by the aggression of buzz-saw guitars. While there’s a sense that Webster’s not taking the songwriting risks she once was, this transcendent set suggests sincerity suits her.
Release date: June 25
Record label: Secretly Canadian