Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Faye Webster Underdressed At The Symphony

Secretly Canadian
Secretly Canadian

The title Underdressed At The Symphony encapsulates the appeal of Faye Webster. She’s cool and classy enough to attend such an event, but winds up sticking out like a sore thumb in the audience, not really belonging to the older, sophisticated demographic. Her songs are beautiful sprawls that masterfully meld together indie pop, country twang, and R&B, yet they’re full of endearing, playful asides that betray her age, like on 2019’s “Kingston” when she sings, “He said, ‘Baby’ — that’s what he called me — ‘I love you.’” On her last album, 2021’s I Know I’m Funny haha, she intones about her partner’s sister, “She said I’m funny and then I thanked her/ But I know I’m funny haha.”

It’s no wonder that TikTok is one of the factors driving her songs to virality. This kind of humor feels directly correlated to the internet — “underdressed at the symphony” could easily be a tweet — which makes sense since Webster is 26, just making the Gen Z cut. A lot of her lyrics use the same casual, sardonic tone that permeates online spheres, and Webster leans into it on Underdressed At The Symphony. One track is called “eBay Purchase History”: “You should see my eBay purchase history/ You could learn a lot about me,” she lulls.

The album, though, begins with “Thinking About You,” six-and-a-half minutes of Webster’s relaxed yearning. It’s enticing as the bassline fades in, but it becomes repetitive. Starting with such a lengthy track is a surprising choice for someone whose fame mostly erupted from TikTok; maybe it’s better for her to go in this direction then to start churning out one- or two-minute songs. But too many songs on Underdressed At The Symphony spread out to nowhere — like “Lifetime,” another instance of her floundering, the five-minute song repeating the refrain “in a lifetime” 22 times total, the guitars sluggish and quiet, not particularly engaging.

But Not Kiss” captures Webster at her strongest. The breathtaking ballad reckons with her indecisive romance: “I want to see you in my dreams, but then forget/ We’re meant to be, but not yet/ You’re all that I have, but can’t get,” she sings in her soft soprano. The instruments mimic her fickle attitude, ricocheting between a hushed silence and a surge of gorgeous sound conjured by drum, bass, pedal steel guitar, and a cheeky piano line. Here, she is not a woman misplaced amongst opulent audience members at a symphony; she is the symphony. It’s the best example of using sprawl to her advantage, where it feels like the song’s structure has no rules — there’s a full five-second pause at one point. When she utters the repeating refrain of “Yeah, yeah,” the instruments follow her lead, and you can imagine a crowd of people chanting the two words along with her, fingers in the air.

Lego Ring” is another highlight. Like “But Not Kiss,” it moves back and forth between fast and slow, a dynamic that the album could use a lot more of. Though the song is based around a silly concept, it’s deeply felt: “I, I know what I like/ I know what I want/ But you know I kinda need,” she harmonizes with Lil Yachty. It’s a perfect pairing — they first met in middle school in Atlanta. His Auto-Tuned voice subtly floats above hers, and his verse adds more layers of entertaining lightheartedness: “Me and you the dream team/ Always together like string beans.”

Webster drenches her own voice in autotune for the R&B-leaning track “Feeling Good Today,” on which she recounts her day in a detailed stream-of-consciousness: “I got paid yesterday/ I’ll probably buy something dumb/ Because I am pretty childish,” she speak-sings. It feels less like a song than it does a FaceTime with a friend, and it epitomizes the era of confessional, sometimes too colloquial lyricism we’re in. The internet has caused zoomers to gravitate toward art that exudes relatability, often to a self-abasing extent for the sake of a joke.

Similarly, “He Loves Me Yeah!” rings like an indie-rock anthem for all the women participating in the current “coquette” trend online, wearing pink ribbons in their hair and trying to revive the term “uwu.” The song swings with excitement as she proclaims that her partner — who she refers to as her “bb” — loves her, but she sings with an almost annoying sense of childishness as she brags, “My bb loves me, yeah/ He loves me, yeah/ He say he miss me, then I say it back.” But toward the end, Webster redeems the song’s immaturity with a sharp, casual turn into salaciousness: “My bb loves me, yeah/ He loves me, yeah/ I really like the way he holds me down.” It’s a rewarding twist, unexpected enough to make a listener gasp or blush (or both).

Underdressed At The Symphony is at its best when Webster can surprise the listener. Her elegant melancholy soars through the title track as she drawls, “I’m depriving myself of happiness/ Something I’m really good at,” her voice cushioned by mesmeric pedal steel. Later on, in the same song, she sings, “I know you haven’t told your mother yet/ Because she invited me over again/ But I’m not surprised/ It’s something you do all the time.” It’s a crushing confession, revealing what the song is actually about: heartbreak. It becomes even more evocative as she continues: “I’m underdressed at the symphony/ Crying to songs that you put me on.” At the word “symphony,” an orchestra interrupts her with a rushed, spiraling crescendo. These risks are especially enchanting, especially when so much of the album feels stagnant.

There are many moving moments on Underdressed At The Symphony, but there are also too many forgettable stretches that lack momentum. It’s instructive that, rather than go for a big finish, closer “Tttttime” just pleasantly ambles along. The guitars are tame as Webster narrates an average day, “I get lost in a song/ Take a walk, call my mom.” Violins emerge toward the end, but they don’t really bring the song anywhere. Maybe Webster doesn’t need the song to go anywhere; she’s happy with where it is. Perhaps her fans will be, too — maybe they don’t need her witty one-liners or an orchestra’s crescendo. Underdressed At The Symphony seems more focused on vibes. While it has its share of show-stoppers, it feels a little too casual. But then again, maybe she’s earned the right to just chill out, to be underdressed.

Underdressed At The Symphony is out 3/1 on Secretly Canadian.

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