Bartees Strange is no stranger to drastic life transitions — he grew up in Oklahoma and later thrived in Washington, D.C., receiving formal voice training in his youth and eventually opening for artists such as Phoebe Bridgers. The name of Strange’s new album, Farm to Table, celebrates change.
“I used to work on a farm in Oklahoma and grew up from working people. Like all my family, sharecroppers, farmers up until my parents,” Strange said in an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music. “Now I find myself kind of at the table with all these people I used to look up to.”
In the album’s fourth track, “Cosigns,” which came out as a single in April, Strange mentions some of these artists he’s worked alongside. “I’m in Chi-Town, I’m with Lucy, I just got the stamp / Hit up Courtney, that’s my Aussie, I already stan / I’m on FaceTime, I’m with Justin, we already friends.” Lucy as in Lucy Dacus, Courtney as in Courtney Barnett and Justin as in Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
When I first heard “Cosigns,” it brought a change of pace to my first impression of Strange, which I had only known from listening to “Boomer” on a loop off of his first full-length album Live Forever.
The switch from indie rock to steady electro pop gave me hope in the versatility and genre-bending I might see in Strange’s new 10-track, 34-minute album — and it delivered.
Farm to Table’s electronic trip is a brief stint but begins with new wave synths in the second track “Mulholland Dr.” Strange also seems to dabble in some tasteful autotune around the second verse with some kind of sing-song-rap.
Strange eventually enters the void completely in the following track, “Wretched,” a song disguised as a sad love ballad — in reality, it’s an upbeat dance jam come each chorus. There’s a lot of build-up, but after the first chorus, you can’t wait for the next and dance your heart out. It’s one of those songs you know would light up the crowd when performed live. Although Strange engages more thoroughly with electronic music in this album, he doesn’t stray far from his previous indie rock and singer-songwriter themes found on Live Forever. These were particularly strong in Farm to Table’s respective starting and ending tracks, the nostalgic “Heavy Heart” and more emotional “Hennessy.”
An honorable mention goes to “Escape This Circus,” which doesn’t necessarily make me feel like a carny but more of a space cowboy lifting off after the heavy punk rock outro.
Strange’s refusal to stick to a single genre throughout his discography and for the entirety of Farm to Table shows he hasn’t had a box to break out of in the first place. He will continue to be an artist to watch from here on out, keeping you on your toes waiting for his next experiment.