Nothing is as simple as it first appears in the engaging music of Faye Webster. On her terrific fourth album, I Know I’m Funny haha, the charming Atlanta native spins time-tested tales of romantic longing, disappointment, and occasionally satisfaction, setting her gently tremulous voice to dreamy summertime melodies punctuated by ethereal steel guitar, mellow keyboards, and other soothing touches. Zoom in for a closer look, however, and disparate details emerge, suggesting more nuanced stories. It’s like looking at a familiar photograph and discovering surprising elements in the background.
Although Webster’s low-key approach — mixing an easy alt-country vibe with the claustrophobic intimacy of bedroom pop — feels unforced, her creative odyssey has been wide-ranging; she once cited both Aaliyah and Angel Olsen as influences, which gives an idea of where she’s coming from. Self-releasing her debut album eight years ago at age 15, she was also a featured singer on rap tracks by Ethereal and Jvizzle and subsequently issued her sophomore effort via hip-hop label Awful Records. Webster’s stellar third album, Atlanta Millionaires Club, employed a recipe similar to I Know I’m Funny haha, but also included rhymes from Awful head honcho Father.
Webster’s expert portrayals of needy and obsessive characters make it tempting to view her as simply a hapless victim, and that would be a mistake. A real-life Atlanta Braves fan, Webster confesses to a fantasy crush in “A Dream with a Baseball Player,” musing softly, “How did I fall in love with someone / I don’t know?” to the strains of suave late-night horns. Pivoting abruptly, she reveals, “There’s so much going on / My grandmother’s dead,” raising questions about what’s really going on in her head.
When it comes to actual relationships, Webster can be just as unpredictable. On the beautiful “In a Good Way,” she addresses a lover who makes her happy, noting solemnly, “You make me wanna cry in a good way.” Yet in the next breath, she murmurs, “I know you’ve been having nightmares lately / I’m sorry I fall asleep first,” hinting at a less-idyllic reality. Elsewhere, she ponders solitude, reflecting on the boyfriend who left her “for someone who looks just like me” in the airy “Sometimes” and observing wryly, “I don’t get the point of leaving my house / ’Cause I always come back,” on “Both All the Time,” continuing, “I’m loneliest at nights / After my shower beer.” Such despairing vignettes might be tiresome without the dark wit she employs so artfully.
Indeed, Webster could become a stand-up comic if she ever lost the knack for captivating songs. The album is littered with arresting, seemingly throwaway lines, delivered in her unassuming deadpan style, that add an offbeat edge. On “Cheers,” the only noisy tune, Webster details a breakup, noting, “I like your songs even though they’re not about me.” Inspired by an encounter with a boyfriend’s drunk sisters, the title track finds her randomly commenting on everything from a bad landlord to the bass player from Linkin Park.
Collecting detailed slices of life, I Know I’m Funny haha captures the sheer oddness of the ordinary, evoking the ambivalence and uncertainty people can feel in any situation, happy or sad. Sure, Faye Webster is funny, but she’s also insightful as hell.