Farm To Table by Bartees Strange album review by Adam Williams. The multi-artist's debut for 4AD drops on June 17, via 4AD

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Bartees Strange

Farm to Table

Bartees Strange’s debut album ‘Live Forever’ is a record that’s centred on geographical locations that shaped our protagonist’s life and his sound. While ‘Farm to Table’, the musician’s sophomore outing, demonstrates a switch of focus from places to people, namely his family and those around him. Since the artist’s first LP dropped back in 2020 Strange’s rise has been meteoric; ‘Live Forever’ received critical acclaim and he’s now rubbing shoulders with luminaries like Phoebe Bridgers, Justin Vernon and Lucy Dacus. And most pertinently, Strange finds himself going out on tour with The National throughout the summer of this year. Why is this so pertinent you ask? Strange put out a covers EP ‘Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy’, cherry-picking his favourite songs by The National in early 2020 – is there any greater validation than when your idols give you their seal of approval?

‘Farm to Table’ is an album that sees Strange refine his aesthetic into a concise soundscape. There’s a charming scrappiness to ‘Live Forever’ (in a good…actually scratch that, great way!) and while it’s clear Strange gives little regard to genre confines, flitting from indie-rock, hip-hop, R’n’B and more melancholic sounds, his debut ring-fences these aural beauties in their own pens for the most part. ‘Farm to Table’ has dissolved those sonic boundaries allowing arrangements to intermingle for a broader and more unique sound.

There’s a tenderness to the English-born-American artist when he ruminates on relationships, whether that’s looking back fondly or with a pang of disenchantment. ‘Wretched’, arguably the poppiest thing Strange has ever created, has our artist stating “my life feels wrong without you” and “I need you back in my system” while the song shapeshifts from introspective verses to an almighty banger of a chorus. Album closer ‘Hennessy’ is tinged with a sweet and sour juxtaposition. Stripped back and intimate, with Strange’s caramel tones accompanied by minimal piano and a brittle acoustic strum, the musician acknowledges “these days we don’t talk anymore” as if to acknowledge a relationship that’s fizzled out over time. Although during the song’s dying moments, ‘Hennessy’ slides into a more soulful tone and Strange can be heard cooing “can’t feel the pain if I’m holding onto you” which is a loving moment to close off the record.

‘Farm to Table’ commences with two tracks that find Strange turning his gaze inward while he contemplates his interactions with those around him. ‘Heavy Heart’, the record’s opener, is something of a slow burner in its early phases before it erupts into a rousing brass flecked crescendo. The song’s hookline is where Strange exercises a deft self-awareness, as he iterates “I never want to miss you this bad/I never meant to run out like that/sometimes I feel like my dad/rushing around”. Proceeding track ‘Mulholland Dr’ is a true representation of ‘Farm to Table’s rich diversity via a song that switches from pensive shimmers to auto-tuned R ’n’ B and dramatic anthemics.

There’s a vulnerability that creeps out while Strange murmurs “somehow I feel like you took parts of me/I don’t wanna be who I’m supposed to be” and then conversely, a clench-fisted defiance when the artist bellows “I find it hard to get over this right now” which is accompanied by a swift blast of caustic noise. The slow march of time is documented via ‘Tours’ intimate ballad as Strange chronicles the transition of being an innocent child to the harsh reality of being an adult “I do what I’m told because I know nothing/but when I’m old/I’ll remember everything”. A country-esque lonesomeness populates the ghostly hue of ‘Hold The Line’, which has Strange soulfully yet sadly ponder “what happened to the man with that big old smile/he’s talking to his mother now”. ‘Escape The Circus’ is a melange of 80s indie pop, welded by glacial synths and simmering guitars that has our figurehead purr “another day is a reason we all might lose” in a rich baritone, which leads the song’s timid begins into a harsh, corrosive wall of sound.

Akin to Strange’s heroes The National, Bartees has managed to strike that difficult chord of creating an album that’s sonically hard to define, as it skips from anthemic moments to pockets of introspection and poppy flirtations with ease. It doesn’t look like that meteoric rise is anywhere close to its apex does it?

Pre-order Farm To Table by Bartees Strange HERE