Bartees Strange’s ‘Farm To Table’ Is Just Absolutely Flawless
By Nathan Leigh
June 24, 2022
Over the past two years, Bartees Strange has emerged as a defining voice of the moment. His incomparable ability to meld genres seamlessly with songs that speak to the longing and anxieties and frustrations of the time is matched by a voice that can wring volumes of meaning from the smallest phrases. If one wanted to sum up the past two years as succinctly as possible, you only need to tune in to Strange’s masterful Live Forever and chase it with the improbably even more essential Farm To Table.
“They say to just get over it
It’s easy if you try
Like I don’t know what’s happening
In my life”
Kicking off with the infinity empathetic “Heavy Heart” Bartees Strange acknowledges the swirling vortex of bullshit before making a promise to survive it. That theme of refusing to sink to the worst of it carries through the album. There’s a profound weight to the way his lyrics wrestle with acknowledging the reality while imagining the possibilities. The band plays powerfully with dynamics throughout, particularly on the gorgeous “Mullholland Dr.” where lines and phrases to hang like a question mark in the air before kicking back in full with a refusal to answer.
Bartees Strange doesn’t make any half choices. Every song is full of big gestures and bigger ideas. The indie rock cred boast of “Cosigns” could easily vanish into a haze of irony, but instead the self-reflection and self-deconstruction of the coda explodes in equal parts earnestness and bombast. His confident voice and versatile guitar work pulls every shred of meaning out of his considerable facility with a hook, whether the songs interrogate big sweeping political ideas, the loss of love, or the family trauma of a childhood as a military brat as on the chilling “Tours.”
The album’s centerpiece is the stunning power ballad “Hold The Line.” Written as a prayer for Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s daughter, he deftly crafts space, sustaining a constant build towards an explosion of noise that never comes. Bartees Strange has always been gifted at crafting licks that are far more complex than they might sound, but here he unleashes fully in guitar theatrics. It’s a master class in sustained tension, perpetually threatening to unravel the beauty he’s carefully built and never doing it. It’s not until the next sung lyric that the tension breaks with the opening line of “Escape This Circus.” The cathartic scream into the void that the song climaxes into answers the long list of impossible choices cataloged throughout it. It’s a release every song prior has built into that leads perfectly into the contemplative dual closers “Black Gold” and “Hennessey.” As the final notes of “Hennssey” settle into silence, it may be a moment before you catch your breath. The only thing to do is to press play and go from the top again.
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