Album Review: Faye Webster – I Know I’m Funny haha

[Secretly Canadian; 2021]

Faye Webster‘s life doesn’t move fast – or at least that’s the impression you get from her music. When things do happen, she has an uncanny way of revealing details about her life, nonchalant as a half smile or a shrug of the shoulders. On the title track to her new album, I Know I’m Funny haha, she mentions moving in with her partner, but even then it’s wrapped up in worries about potentially tattling neighbours and frustration about her landlord keeping her money. In the soothing, offhand way she does, Webster never sings about the big things like they matter much.

If you read between the lines on her fourth album then you might find the big thing in the world (a global pandemic shutting pretty much everything down) hiding there; I Know I’m Funny haha ambles about the malaise of life with no discernible direction or purpose. It’s there from the first line of the first song, “Better Distractions” (“Sit around until I find something better to spend my time, but nothing’s appealing”) all the way to the final museful, acoustic closing track “Half of Me” (“I’m stuck at home / With nothing to do but thinking”). It’s the kind of space that brings out Webster’s best side, as she hones her skill of centring in on a singular phrase and repeating it until meaning sounds like it has been found. Even on “Sometimes” she exhales the titular word enough for it to sound like it could tear two people apart (or bring them back together).

All this is helped by Webster’s band, who seem so finely in tune with her songwriting that nothing ever feels misplaced. You might expect this tight playing from an established jazz quartet, but not from a countrified lounge band, as they sound here. They get the time to show just how important and in sync they are too; I Know I’m Funny haha is Webster’s most languorous and ruminative album, many songs punctuated quietly with extended instrumental passages that carry on the mood of her lyrics. Pedal steel guitarist Matt ‘Pistol’ Stoessel in particular is almost like a second voice on the album, wringing out what feel like echoes of Webster’s words between maudlin aches of quiet twanging.

But it’s Webster’s lyrics that are the returning draw here. She has a gentle coo much like Natalie Prass, but there’s a lot more wryness and lived-in melancholia here. (There’s also a hint of Courtney Barnett in the everyday life tales of the title track.) Webster talks of crying a lot throughout these songs, but she never uses the word in a way that feels overdramatic. On “A Stranger” she’s crying “for no reason at all,” just to “get it out of my system,” while on album highlight “In A Good Way” she professes gently “You make me wanna cry in a good way” over and over in the chorus, like a mantra to herself. On the equally excellent and downbeat “Both All The Time” she sings “Will I stop crying for once? / It’s hurting my eyes,” and she so perfectly executes the line between quiet tragedy and self-deprecating comedy you would think she had been doing it for decades.

Whether it be love or listlessness that brings on the tears, Webster never feels disingenuous. The sadness is there in the solitude (“There’s a difference between lonely and lonesome / But I’m both all the time”), but also in real life tragedy. In the rare moment where she admits there’s a lot happening on “A Dream with a Baseball Player” (“There’s so much going on / My grandmother’s dead”) she utters the latter half of the line like it pales in comparison to the everyday anxieties (“I can’t sleep cause this isn’t my bed” goes the next line, with that hint more urgency). It’s a relatable way of communicating: never wanting to draw attention to devastating news, and focussing more on woes that others can connect with.

At 23 years old, Webster already has a back catalogue that those many years her senior would make a deal with the devil for, and I Know I’m Funny haha only adds to the impressiveness. While the album doesn’t colour outside the lines as much as previous efforts (though the chuggy, restrained grunge wash on “Cheers” is a welcome outwards venture), that’s no bad moment here. Webster finds her words and takes her time to communicate them with gorgeous music behind her. She goes at her own pace. There’s no need for her to hurry.