Album Reviews

Faye Webster – Underdressed At The Symphony

(Secretly Canadian) UK release date: 1 March 2024

A languid haze drifts over this deliberate, considered yet oddly beguiling mix of jazz, folk and indie, with some hip-hop stylings thrown in

Faye Webster - Underdressed At The Symphony Faye Webster‘s rise to fame has been as steady and unobtrusive as her music. She released her first album at just 16 years of age, and has spent the last decade cultivating an audience that seems to have grown with each release. She even earned a spot on one of Barack Obama’s prestigious end of year playlists, and is a big favourite of Tik-Tok users – her last video seemed custom designed for the platform, featuring footage of a 70-something influencer wandering round wearing a latex mask of Webster’s face.

The Tik-Tok reference is a curious one, as it seems at odds with Webster’s considered, deliberate music. It’s music that’s hard to classify – a oddly beguiling mix of jazz, folk and indie, with some hip-hop stylings thrown in. Some of her songs can deliberately unfold over six minutes, some are done within 90 seconds. There’s a languid haze which drifts over these songs, there’s much use of lyrical and melodic repetition, but there’s so much invention crammed into these songs that the listener is unlikely to be bored.

Much of Underdressed At The Symphony was apparently written after a break-up, and it perfectly encapsulates that listless mood that often comes on after splitting up with someone. Opening track Thinking About You is simply six and a half minutes of Webster singing over and over again “I’m thinking about you”, which could end up overstaying its welcome, but actually becomes weirdly hypnotic. There’s a song about buying stuff on Ebay (“You should see my Ebay purchase history, you could learn a lot about me” which is a decent contender for best opening line of the year so far), and a track about missing the closeness of a relationship but not any of the messy sex stuff. It’s definitely a record to sink into and relax.

The more that you listen to this album, the more affecting it becomes. The title track is an utterly gorgeous post-break up wallow, addressed to a former lover – “I know you haven’t told your mother yet, cause she invited me over again, but I’m not surprised”. It’s also one of many tracks which catches you unaware at times – just after Webster softly intones the title, a big orchestral flourish suddenly enlivens the song, before it drifts back into its pedal-steel accompanied sorrow.

At times, it almost becomes a bit too deliberately paced and reliant on repetition. Lifetime is one of the weaker tracks, drifting along for over five minutes while “in a lifetime” is endlessly repeated, while Feeling Good Today feels a bit half-sketched, just a minute and a half of Webster contemplating the day ahead. Yet that’s balanced out by tracks like the dramatic, almost anthemic, But Not Kiss, and the scuzzy Auto-Tune drenched Lego Ring, which features rapper Lil Yachty on vocals and a surprising amount of tempo changes, given the generally unhurried air of the rest of the album.

There’s also He Loves Me Yeah! which is probably the closest that this album comes to a conventional pop song, which starts off all cutesy and cloying – “We got our own house, and we sleep upstairs, we talk a walk and then he brush my hair” – before adding an unexpected dose of sauce into the mix with lines like “My baby loves me, yeah he loves me yeah, I really like the way he holds me down”. It’s another example of how Webster, despite the relaxed air of most of her songs, always keeps you on your toes.

Closing track Tttttime sums up the ethos of the record – an ode to getting lost in the moment, be it listening to a song, calling your parents or just talking a walk: there’s always time (or, as Webster sings in a naggingly catchy way, “t-t-t-t-t-t-time). You could do a lot worse than invest some of your time in Underdressed At The Symphony.

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