ALBUM REVIEW: Bartees Strange – Live Forever
By John Mccracken
Bartees Strange’s Live Forever is a pulsing, sonic conundrum, released on Music Memory and mastered by Grammy-nominated producer Will Yip. In the first minutes of Live Forever, the Washington D.C. songwriter paints with an ethereal brush. “Jealousy” opens with soft piano chords, birds chirping, and an almost unintelligible Strange delivers lines about anger, missing pieces of the self, and a missing but needed voice.
Distinct sounds like his will stop you in your tracks when you first hear them. Music’s ability to mold memories with reality is palpable with brilliant songwriting such as his. While bathing my son after an extraordinarily messy lunch, the first notes of “Jealousy” played through a small Bluetooth speaker. The window was open and the trees swayed with their newly changing leaves. He babbled along to the slowly crashing chords, shimmying in the rippling water, pushing infinite waves to the edges of the pool.
“Mustang” followed after, cutting the soft sounds with sharp synthesizers and a driving post-punk anthem. Strange has a stunning vocal range, moving between soft indie rock and anthemic, almost bellowing choruses. Showing his vocal range alongside musical prowess, Strange delves into a gritty punk in an abrupt ending to the track.
Bartees Strange is a gifted songwriter with a unique background. Born in Ipswich, England, he travelled across Europe at a young age, being exposed to music through the church. His life in the States has had a proclivity to move around, jumping between music scenes in Oklahoma, eventually finding his way to the metro D.C. area as a songwriter and producer.
Citing his young life and navigating the world as a Black man, “Boomer” is a fast-paced song, switching between wittily delivered rap verses and jangling, boot-stomping country bridges.
He juggles aspirations of a better life on the trippy rap track “Kelly Rowland.” On “Stone Meadows,” he builds a wall of stadium rock, blending his loud delivery and shuffling drums.
Strange’s power lies in his ability to evoke mood with the strike of a chord. His large breadth of musical experiences, ranging from country bands, emo bands, and formal opera vocal training, has created a perfect mix of the unpredictable in him. He transcends genre with a smile on his face and a quick whip in his words.
While trying to trace a singular root for in his sound, a messy clump of vines lies in the wake. This album is a gesture towards an infinite possibility of sound, influenced by punk, rap, indie-pop, synth-rock, with a brilliant, singular singer songwriting voice.Genre isn’t really in Strange’s vocabulary, because his songwriting melds sonic worlds together in a distinctive thread.
Strange closes the album with the moody anthem “Ghostly.” The track ebbs and flows with plicking synth chords as he contemplates memories of friends and the effects of growing distant from one another. Midway through, he shifts into a new refrain with driving chords, reaching towards a hefty album closer. The song evaporates quickly, mixing vocal harmonies and crashing static.
John Mccracken is a freelance writer from Wisconsin, living in Green Bay. He’s reported on breaking labor news, the intimacy of food in the face of a global pandemic, and interviewed multiple New York Times Bestselling authors. Visit his work here.
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