Bartees Strange
Farm To Table

In this industry, you only get so many chances to make an impact on the music community and leave your legacy. After being at the tip of every tongue of concert promoters and music publications this past year, is it really any surprise that Bartees Strange would live up to the hype on his sophomore effort, Farm To Table? Coming off of ultra-successful touring stints with the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Car Seat Headrest, Courtney Barnett, and Lucy Dacus, it became increasingly evident that he was ready for this moment. In fact, Bartees Strange called his own shot by making it his goal to be signed to the legendary indie label 4AD, and he would add that to his list of worthy accomplishments. He gave us a glimpse of his unique sound on his debut called Live Forever, but Farm To Table seems more fully realized, immediate, and artistically brilliant all over the record. Bartees Strange tackles worldly themes like the current political climate, relationships (both personally and professionally), and still leaves enough space to put his unique stamp on this period of time. The clear front-runner for album of the year has arrived, and it’s okay to be strange.

The record opens with a quiet, yet beautiful guitar riff on “Heavy Heart” as Bartees Strange’s trademark croon hits over the mix in a soothing fashion. The song slow-builds to a pulsating crescendo in the first chorus, and the tempo changes to a more upbeat variety. The middle section of the track features some faint sounds of horns, orchestra elements, and pounding drums to make for an incredible opening statement to this latest chapter in his musical career. “Mulholland Dr.” follows and features a similar song structure to the opener with the way it unfolds into a crowd-pleasing chorus. The backing vocals and harmonies take center stage on this song that drifts to the heavens.

”Wretched” was the latest single to be released from the set, and it’s easy to see why the label would want to showcase a song like this. It works as a near-sequel to Live Forever’s “Flagey God” in the way that Bartees Strange vocal cadence is similar to that aforementioned song, and yet he adds something new by adding an exciting dance beat to the new song to keep things unexpected and interesting. It’s songs like these that make being a music writer so rewarding, as you can see the breadcrumbs of where Bartees Strange came from in the early stages of his career and then turning the music world on its head by developing into the artist you always knew he was capable of becoming. This full circle moment is fully realized on songs like this.

”Cosigns” was the first single to be released from Farm To Table and it still works as a mid-set departure from the guitar-driven material in the first few tracks. Bartees raps over a well-constructed beat about the music industry relationships he’s obtained through his key connections over the years, but let’s be honest, he earned this moment through his ultra-diligent hard work and dedication to his craft.

The back half opens with the acoustic ballad, “Tours,” that showcases Bartees Strange’s ability to convey a wide range of emotions through his vocal delivery. The tempo change in the middle section of the song further expands on his brilliance as a guitarist as he picks up steam through each heartfelt lyrical delivery. The blues-tinged “Hold The Line” finds the young artist at his most reflective as he looks back at his life and sees the world through his unique lens. The electric guitar wails in-between each verse while the drums reverberate long after the song is done. “We Were Only Close For Like Two Weeks” serves as a nice interlude of sorts to prepare the listener for the final three songs, as Bartees repeats the title of the track over some faint guitars.

”Escape the Circus” is one of the more straight-forward rock songs that Bartees has crafted to date, and his ability to say so much through the instrumentation allows for his vocals to take a backseat, of sorts, as they serve as a reference layer in the background as the instruments take center stage on this one. The explosion of sound in the final minute rewards listeners who were ready to rock out with an ear-splitting wall of rock bliss.

The tender and earnest “Black Gold” continues down the path first traveled on Live Forever’s “Ghostly,” and yet he makes this similar sound feel more modern and cutting edge through breakthroughs of backing vocals and lush harmonies in the chorus to keep things moving in the right direction. The song features an interlude with what sounds like childhood memories replaying in his mind, before closing out the track with artistic poise.

By the time you get to the closing song of “Hennessy” it becomes increasingly evident that Bartees Strange has delivered all over on his sophomore effort. He put his blood, sweat, and soul into these songs that breathe new life into a music landscape that at times feels genre-less, and that’s what makes Bartees so damn special. He can go from genre to genre at ease, and he does each of them so well that it’s sometimes difficult to classify where he’s pulling his deep well of musical references from. It’s definitely okay to be different, to make a lasting impact by trying something new, and to admit that stepping that stepping outside of our comfort zones can be equally liberating. The world is strange, but Bartees Strange is a calming voice of reason.