A wonderful aspect of writing about music for a living is that you get to be surprised. Not constantly: when AC/DC puts out a new album, you and I both know exactly what we’re getting. But every once in a while, I get confronted with the joyous thought that the previous notions and experiences in my head have the ability to play tricks on me.
Such was the case when I listened to Faye Webster’s fourth album I Know I’m Funny haha. Having listened to Webster’s discography in preparation for her latest release, and being tangentially familiar with her previous material through friends/Spotify algorithms, I got the implication that she was heading in a more rock direction after three albums in the alt-country vein. Boy was I wrong.
What struck me almost immediately was just how weird the album sounds. Every time it feels like it should be fast, like in the traditional album opener slot, we get a lethargic strut in ‘Better Distractions’. Then, just to drive the point home, Webster doubles down and we get another jazzy waltz in ‘Sometimes’, which sounds like it was plucked straight from a Julie London album from the 1950s.
I don’t really know what I was expecting going in, but I Know I’m Funny haha managed to subvert even my most basic of assumptions. Even as it plays in different styles and genres, nothing ever feels contrived or even particularly ironic either. The ghostly pedal steel that makes the title track a quasi-country song actually fits perfectly within the melancholic and blunt storytelling. The sublime horn bleats in ‘A Dream With a Baseball Player’ never feel retro or referential. It’s hard to put a finger on all the disparate tones and moods, although I’ve seen a fair number of lazy individuals go back to the same uninspired well.
“Indie” is a meaningless and tepid term that could literally apply to any kind of music today, whether it’s made on an independent label or not. Faye Webster often gets pegged as an “indie” artist, which doesn’t do a damn thing to describe her music or style. What I hear is a somewhat bizarre mix of R&B, jazz, and country. Tracks like ‘Kind Of’ shuffle while songs like ‘A Dream With a Baseball Player’ sway. It takes twenty minutes to get to an actual rock song, ‘Cheers’, but it doesn’t stick around for very long, and the album goes back to its indelible mix of gentle strums and smooth funk. Anyone calling this album “indie rock” or “indie pop” album clearly didn’t actually listen to it.
After letting it float around for my brain for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that I Know I’m Funny haha doesn’t actually sound all that different from Webster’s previous material. It’s got the same high-quality production, lyrically insightful songwriting, and wistful aura. Maybe it’s a bit more complicated structurally and harmonically, but it’s still distinctively Webster, just evolved in a new direction.
But what sticks with me is how subversive the album was the first time I heard it, without being particularly audacious or ostentatious. It just goes to show that even the most restrained pieces of art can surprise you.