By probability, alternative and creative inclination, Bartees Strange has been a lifelong outlier — a place his songs grapple with, exult in and always query on his second studio album, “Farm to Table.”
His father served in the Air Force, typically abroad, and Bartees Leon Cox Jr. was born in England and lived in Greenland and Germany, amongst different locations, earlier than his household settled in Mustang, Okla. He sang in church choirs together with his mom, who additionally carried out opera, and he began producing music in a selfmade studio in his teenagers. He started releasing songs on SoundCloud a decade ago, and he performed in hardcore bands in Washington, D.C. and in the self-described “post-hardcore” Brooklyn band Stay Inside.
Instead of following a Black musician’s stereotyped path into hip-hop or R&B — although he attracts on each — Strange, now 33, discovered his personal voice in indie-rock, adopting the churning guitars and destabilizing synthesizers of bands like TV on the Radio, Bloc Party, Radiohead and the Cure. Most of the tracks on his debut EP as Bartees Strange, “Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy,” which was launched in March 2020 simply as pandemic restrictions started, have been moody, risky, radically reworked variations of songs by the long-running indie-rock band the National.
Forging an indie-rock profession is an uncharted, self-conscious path at one of the best of occasions, navigating revelation and obfuscation, rawness and craftsmanship, instincts and business aims. “I could give the pain for the bankroll,” Strange sang in “In a Cab,” on his debut album, “Live Forever,” launched in October 2020. Anything however tentative, “Live Forever” launched Strange in all his multiplicity. He constructed hurtling rockers (“Boomer”) and pulsating digital beats (“Flagey God”); he examined craving and rage, confessions and innovations. “I lie for a living now/that’s why I can’t really tell you stuff,” he sang in “Mustang,” named after his longtime hometown.
The pandemic delayed an indie-rocker’s normal subsequent step: touring. But by the point concert events resumed, “Live Forever” had been embraced by listeners and fellow musicians. Strange performed opening slots for Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, Courtney Barnett and the National; he recorded a fervid band efficiency that was launched in 2021 as “Live at Studio 4”; he did remixes and visitor appearances with Bridgers, Illuminati Hotties and others.
“Farm to Table” displays all of the conflicting emotions of private success throughout dire occasions. “There’s reasons for heavy hearts/This past year I thought I was broken,” Strange sings in “Heavy Heart,” because the album begins. But the music evolves from lament to gallop, with guitars pealing and piling on as Strange glances by means of a whirlwind 12 months: journey, loneliness, somebody’s loss of life, a romance, rising up: “Some nights I feel just like my dad/Rushing around,” he sings, troubled but surging forward.
His previous additionally looms in “Tours,” as Strange picks an acoustic guitar and juxtaposes fragmented childhood reminiscences of navy postings and household separations — “Where is Kuwait? Is that in the States?” — together with his personal life on the street. Not that he’s complaining an excessive amount of; in “Cosigns,” he flaunts and marvels at his ascending profession, name-checking his tour mates, however he additionally worries over his personal rising expectations. The observe opens with bleary synthesizers and mock-casual rapping, then gathers echoing guitars and a heftier beat till Strange is belting, “Hungry as ever/there’s never enough!”
The album’s most richly transferring music is “Hold the Line,” an elegy for George Floyd that he recorded in October 2020. “What happened to the man with that big ol’ smile/He’s calling to his mother now,” Strange sings with tender desolation, answered by a keening slide guitar; later, he imagines himself in Floyd’s place.
Nothing goes unmixed in Strange’s songs. His productions metamorphose as they unfold, restlessly shifting amongst idioms; his lyrics refuse straightforward comforts. In “Mulholland Dr.,” he units up a skein of guitar patterns like a latter-day Laurel Canyon manufacturing, gleaming prettily at the same time as he sings about misgivings and mortality: “I’ve seen how we die/I know how we lose.” And in “Wretched,” he’s desperately lacking somebody, feeling misplaced and deserted, blurting out that “My life feels wrong without you.” But the music carries him, a spiraling crescendo with guitars and synthesizer swells, kicking right into a four-on-the-floor beat, pumping towards a last realization: “Sometimes it’s hard, but you know I’m thankful.”
“Farm to Table”