By Oliver Stone

Since self-releasing her first LP at age sixteen, Atlanta-based artist Faye Webster has captivated audiences with her unabashed intimacy and diversity of influences in her songwriting. She experienced viral success with 2019’s Atlanta Millionaires Club and further acclaim from 2021’s I Know I’m Funny Haha, cementing her status as one of the most adored active indie musicians. Now signed to label Secretly Canadian, her discography spans a wide array of delectable love ballads that have roots in everything from twangy classic country, contemporary R&B, and somber indie rock. 

Webster’s latest release, Underdressed at the Symphony, follows a similarly varied set of singles, including “Lego Ring” featuring Webster’s high school classmate Lil Yachty, which peaked at #47 on the US Rock charts. As a fully realized album, Underdressed at the Symphony takes the uniquely indescribable style of Webster’s poetic, yearning tracks and creates a cohesive album that reflects on the highlights and struggles of this defining point in her career. The LP is full of surprising moments, from the unserious Lil Yachty verse on “Lego Ring” to the symphonic orchestral break on the album’s titular track and the deeply sobering meditation on being sober and career burnout in “Wanna Quit All the Time.” Overall, Webster continues to impress with her ability to continuously produce fresh material in her distinct songwriting style, and gives the impression that her music isn’t made to appease anyone— she just loves to make music. 

The album opens with its longest track, “Thinking About You,” performed on her latest tour under the working title “Wilco Type Beat.” The influence is apparent: Webster indulges in the crisp drums, shimmering guitar tones, and delightful piano on alt-country classics like Wilco’s “Jesus Etc.” (which the Tweedy-led band performed alongside Webster at Athens’ Classic Center last year). However, Webster manages to create a wholly original track that feels dynamic enough to mask its 6:36 runtime and repetitive chorus as she drones out the same lyrics in her trademark soft, meditative vocals. 

The next track is the album’s first single and the most familiar to Webster’s fans: “But Not Kiss,” a highly personal song about the feelings that result from the fallout of a relationship. In terms of lyricism, Faye Webster possesses an originality that subtly blends the strange and subversive with the soulful and sincere. She writes, “I want to see you in my dreams, but then forget/We’re meant to be, but not yet.” The simplistic repeating chorus line (“yeah, yeah”) lies somewhere between bland and brilliantly simple; Webster has discovered a way to master the pop track and doesn’t bother with departing from her formula. The song also delivers to the Underdressed at the Symphony’s general concept as a breakup album, subtly masked by the poppy and playful songs across its ten track length. 

“Wanna Quit All the Time” is just as short and simple as the rest of the album in terms of lyrical content, but reflects an interesting and complex new direction for the singer-songwriter. Faye Webster discusses the anxiety of being handed a successful career and adoring fanbase and her self-awareness and self-consciousness as an artist. She proves here that any Webster record is more than the sum of its parts; she not only dabbles in beautifully catchy melodies, impressively strong and tight rhythm sections, and silky vocals— Faye Webster produces music that investigates her own conscious mind and probes for answers to her perplexing life questions (“I think I’ll figure it out, uh huh,” she sings). 

Later on the album, Webster procures perhaps her saddest, most yearning, and most deeply contemplative song yet: “Lifetime.” Following the cheerful interlude “Feeling Good Today,” the album’s sixth track takes the smooth, grooving basslines signature to the Faye Webster sound and combines them with subtle piano and string sections and an earworm of a riff to produce a flowing, floaty sort of instrumental that carries some of the Atlanta artist’s most depressing and introspective lyrics. The beauty in Underdressed at the Symphony is how it balances and reconciles the bright with the moody, both instrumentally and lyrically. Between bright, twangy guitar work and deeply moving symphonic orchestration, Faye Webster creates an atmosphere for the most utterly emotional, whether it’s reflecting on positive life developments (like “He Loves Me Yeah!”) or brutally self-aware brooding (found in the darkly beachy “eBay Purchase History”). 

The album’s title track is definitely the most promising and rewarding listen since the slew of singles preceding the album’s release. The song feels classically Faye Webster with a more fresh, baroque style, including the delightfully beautiful aforementioned orchestral break. “Underdressed at the Symphony” also contains one of the most elegant piano outros in recent memory of popular music. Webster elevates her signature trademarks as a songwriter to the status of an artistic savant with flourishes that add character and dynamic movement to her work. The album could’ve ended there, but Webster includes the closer “Tttttime” to finish things off, a less serious track with another overdrawn, repetitive chorus. However, it’s tracks like “Tttttime” (with titles so niche they’re easy to forget) that show what Webster is really all about. She’s not a pop star; she’s a professionally-developed indie musician. She refuses to conform to the conventions of her era and instead opts for a return to Motown grooves, classical baroque pop, country ballads, and early hip hop. Webster is as omnivorous in her influences as she is diverse in her songwriting, all while maintaining a consistent and addictively indulgent style. Underdressed at the Symphony is not exactly a perfect album, but it’s a must-listen for any and all fans of Faye Webster or just people who complain that modern pop music is somehow unoriginal. Faye Webster operates in a league of her own and earns raving adoration for it.