Bartees Strange is one of those guys that you immediately want to know about. Born in England, raised in Oklahoma, and now based in Washington, D.C., Strange isn’t even his real name. It’s Bartees Cox, the former college football player and hardcore guitarist who was pretty much unknown before he got whatever the modern equivalent of the Pitchfork bump is nowadays.
But with the release of his debut Live Forever in 2020, Bartees Strange, the genre-blending artist of the future was born. The kitchen sink approach that Strange brought to his records became a downright fascination for some fans, so the supersized helping that is his new follow-up, Farm to Table, shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody who has been listening.
Each song on Farm to Table is a treasure trove for music nerds to pour over. If you want to find David Gilmour’s soaring lead guitar in ‘Hold the Line’, you certainly can. Is Frank Ocean in the final strains of ‘Hennessy’? He is if that’s what you’re looking for. The fact that Strange appeals to a very specific type of music listener and a very specific scene, one that can be wildly diverse and yet still stupefyingly vanilla at the same time, is never lost on him throughout the album’s ten tracks.
In fact, Strange seems ready for the rest of the world to come in to join his party. That’s why he seems so exalted when he lists his famous fans on ‘Cosigns’: this is a moment, with everyone from Phoebe Bridgers to Justin Vernon singing his praises. If I had those kinds of recommendations, I’d be bragging about them too. You’d be a fool not to reach for the stars when you have this much rocket fuel.
The maximalism baked into the DNA of Farm to Table is alternately intoxicating and surprising, considering how the minimalist wave of the early 2020s isn’t even buried in the ground yet. To say that Strange is the kind of artist that has something for everyone is silly. To say that he’s the perfect artist for right now is anything but.
With so much interest, Strange opens the doors to his life in different ways. There’s the respect that he pays to his past generations on ‘Heavy Heart’ and the separation that comes with being on the road on ‘Tours’. If there are times when that Strange seems to slip into a persona, it’s immediately balanced out by the frankness that comes with getting a real insight into Bartees Cox on tracks like ‘Wretched’ and ‘Escape This Circus’.
Around it, there are math rock guitar licks in ‘Mulholland Dr.’, the blissed-out interlude smoke break of ‘We Were Only Close For Like Two Weeks’, autotune that filters into quite a few tracks. This mix of elements is what got Strange so much attention in the first place, but even if your entire goal was to take Strange more seriously this time around, there are so many nuggets and detours to take on Farm to Table that it’s nearly impossible not to get submerged.
But by the time the weathered, stripped-back sound of ‘Hennessy’ floats in, Strange doesn’t need anybody else – he can harmonise with himself. As at least four or five different versions of Strange prop himself up, the message that Strange doesn’t actually need the approval, the acclaim, or the stardom is clear. Farm to Table is an open door to a hypnotising, hazy, and deeply intimate world, one that demands a return trip.
So what do we truly know about Bartees Strange by the end of Farm to Table? Mostly that recognising paid dues, modern music scenes, and public perception are variable experiences for everyone. Strange’s way of sussing through his own experiences just happens to take the form of totally engrossing music. Is the world ready for Bartees Strange, Music Superstar? Who knows, but the reality isn’t as interesting as the experience of seeing Strange try to will it into existence.