If you didn’t know our current era was rife with referential genre stylings used in pursuit of a genre-less pop sensibility, listen to Faye Webster’s Atlanta Millionaires Club. Steel guitar that’s as Hawaii as it is Nashville opens the first song, “Room Temperature”. She croons in a state of somnambulant loneliness and stasis, pondering the meaningless of everything, even of the emotional signals (tears) she uses to express that meaninglessness.
Her despondency within a luxurious backdrop climbs to near surreal heights, without her tone changing, her demeanor ever climbing out of bed. She lets the mood, lyrics and delivery do the trick – “I was sitting here last year / The same time ago / Still wearing the same thing / These aren’t even my clothes,” she sings, drawing out the syllables like the laughably slow bear from the Disney World attraction Country Bears Jamboree. “I should get out more,” she decides, for real or for fake.
The 32-minute album is filled with moments like this, of bleak tenderness (or tender bleakness) mixed with dry humor and a gorgeous array of moody instrumentation. Lust and nostalgia for it, pain as a fact of life; this is the stuff of a million break-up albums and late-night jukebox soul ballads, and she damn well knows it.
At the album’s center, and then reprised at the end, is “Jonny”, a show-stopper of a love song that admits it doesn’t think of itself as a love song. It starts like the album, in a claustrophobic bedroom, with her re-considering the color she chose to paint the walls and then pondering how weird it is she spends so much time with her dog when the dog doesn’t know her name. It’s like a string of random thoughts turned into a classic of unrequited love. Then again, the love part could be another random thought, not quite a dream or a desire even.
At times – “Hurts Me Too”, for example — her singing is so intently brittle it seems like she will barely make it to the next line, but then the music will soar up old-Hollywood-score style, and she’s suddenly the queen of romance. The whole of Atlanta Millionaires Club is walking this line between the sublime and the sedate, the strange and the bittersweet, starting with the cover of her cramming melting chocolate coins into her face.
Webster hails from Atlanta, Georgia, one of the hip-hop centers of the universe. “Come to Atlanta”, she beckons us on one song. Webster’s connection to Awful Records, who released her first album, adds another seemingly unlikely dimension that actually makes sense; there’s a coolness and a prankster sensibility that’s right in line with Awful. The label’s central figure, Father, shows up to rap on the playful “Flowers”. The degree to which he seems like he might be in a different song is so perfectly in sync with the album’s tone that it makes the song a dynamite standout even as Webster takes a step out of the limelight.
Another standout that has some kind of spiritual connection with “Flowers” is “Kingston”, a dreamy song aware of its own dreaminess. “The day that I met you I started dreaming,” she sings. And really, throughout the album, she performs like she’s forever lost in a dream, even as she uses mundane life details to ground us back in the boring/exciting details of life on earth. That line between dream life and reality, between our own internal thoughts and our muted and awkward external manifestations of them, seems essential to the brilliant trick of Faye Webster’s music and this impeccable, contradictory pop album.