For at least a little while longer, every new album is going to feel like it carries the woozy hangover of the lockdown times. I don’t know anything about the genesis of Faye Webster’s new album, I Know I’m Funny haha. Maybe it was written and recorded before masks, darkened concert venues, and necessary isolation, when Webster — and we all — roamed the wilds freely, unconcerned about a deadly and debilitating virus wafting through the air. The album is in keeping with the sonic aesthetic Webster established on, and it’s not like the lyrics are filled with commentary culled from weary debates about public health on the PBS NewsHour. Still, the album carries the tentative emergence of this moment. Webster pokes her nose out into the universe, tentatively but steadily exposing her vulnerability to anyone who will listen.
She also displays crack songwriting skills. Webster is a musical minimalist and a shrewd, gifted wordsmith. The smooth-groove title cut packs a whole tender short story in its evocative lyrics: “Let’s sit around and drink some sake/ And we can argue about the same things/ Talk about neighbors on the front porch/ I wonder if they know we’re moving.” The pedal steel guitar lolling through the tracks inevitably gives the material the languid tone of classic country, though with the crisp, modernized production intricacy and indie-rock mischief of a Beth Orton or Adrianne Lenker. The little electronic buzz frittering around the surface of the hunkered prowl “Cheers” signals that Webster is no front-porch purist. She’s willing to nudge the boundaries of her art while everyone’s distracted by its beauty and deceptive fragility.
There’s probably no avoiding comparisons to the genius-boy triumvirate of Phoebe, Lucy, and Julien. Especially when Webster is especially spare and piercing, as on “Half of Me,” the spiritual kinship is strong enough to hurl a seance table across the room. Webster made it into record racks before any of the those three, but zeitgeist waves don’t always do their buoying in line with chronology. No matter which direction the comparison should travel, Webster distinguishes herself with her craft. And, hey, there are other comparisons that might be more indicative of her range. “Better Distractions” has the careful complexity of a Harry Nilsson hidden treasure, and “Both All the Time” is like a version Lucinda Williams who hasn’t been fully hardened by battle yet, though she’s definitely getting there (“I’m loneliest at night/ After my shower beer/ And I’ll go to sleep without turning out the lights/ Pretend like somebody’s here”). Get past the readiest associations, and Webster’s onion-skin layers start to show.
To the degree that I Know I’m Funny haha suggests, intentionally or not, hopeful steps into a slowly reviving world, it a positive reemergence. It’s like a homecoming of creativity. And music this strong is welcome anytime.