Bartees Strange: Live Forever (Memory Music) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 21st, 2020  

Bartees Strange

Live Forever

Memory Music

Oct 02, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Geographically speaking, The Woodlands are to Houston what Mustang is to Oklahoma City.  The analogy starts to fall apart, however, when you compare Win and Will Butler’s boyhood experience, documented in Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs to that of Bartees Strange’s transplanted teenage home. White kids’ dreams of waging a suburban war on boredom don’t stack up against Strange’s suppressed fear of never being found dead out in the pasture. Put more succinctly, being disenchanted is a world apart from being wholly disenfranchised. Though over a decade removed from the environment, the under the surface rage of Black youth not belonging is the energy that fuels much of Strange’s album length debut, Live Forever

Strange’s musical map is much more diverse than the small town space he was confined to.  Drawing on influences from hardcore, to hip-hop, to country, with an expansive voice that carries them all equally, Strange lays claim to variety denied. Structured with fully developed cut scenes that piece together the album’s longer tracks, it’s in some of the shorter snippets we capture Strange’s essence. In fact, the album’s shortest track, “Mossblerd,” is not just one of its most immediate moments, but one in which Strange pictures himself chillingly unhinged. Over a scramble of radio frequencies, Strange decries being pigeonholed—cleverly portrayed as the lack of genre options that should be available: “keep us from our commas.” While also getting eerily to more base desires: “If I can’t play The Beacon, imma bring the Mossblerd”—a garbled reference where gun and carrier become one. 

But the instinctual is only one aspect of what Strange displays here. The album starts on a quieter moment of a prayer for rage removed (“Jealousy”), before rolling into the hard rocking “Mustang.” Here with nary a strain of being a newcomer, Strange taunts at his brashest: “Is anybody really up for this one/If I don’t hold nothing back?” The following “Boomer” makes reference to Oklahoma roots and misguided youth with an entrancing mix of laconic raps undercut by buzzing guitars that escalate into full blown gospel shout choruses. An incongruous melding of styles that Strange sees no irony in cobbling together and tackles with aplomb. The shifts are so seamless that the journey from Point A to Point B is transformative, but barely detected. 

Strange is just as adept in the album’s quieter moments. The steel string acoustic echo bouncing from studio walls on “Fallen For You” has the sweat soaked vibe of an encore solo turn. And though the chopped up cadence of the brief “Kelly Rowland” is beat forward, its message is all heart. The romance of foreign soil mixed with, as Strange puts it, “Versace dreams.” While the album closing “Ghostly” plays out as a synth laden outro that shows another aspect of Strange’s talent and presses against fading into the background.      

Though a debut, Strange has the life and studio experience to deliver a fully developed work right out of the box.  Live Forever foregoes any sense of a tentative step into the arena, with all of Strange’s talents on foot forward display. Informed by a lifetime’s worth of sleights and opportunities denied, it’s clear that Strange is not going to let the moment pass him by. Though the album thrives on the visceral thrill of the eight second ride, Strange’s focus on the brass ring of playing The Beacon and beyond is a more carefully crafted strategy. One with a multitude of commas. And one that should mesh well with an audience ready to receive the dawning of his day. (www.barteesstrange.bandcamp.com)       

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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