Bartees Strange – Farm To Table (4AD) Album Review

Bartees Strange releases his second album and first for the 4AD label. It’s title…Farm To Table.

A glimpse at Bartees Leon Cox Jr’s Wikipedia listing reveals an interesting back-story.

Born in England and raised in Oklahoma, Cox was part of a New York post-hardcore outfit Stay Inside, before shifting his musical focus to acoustic folk through an EP with backing band The Strange Fruit.

Presumably that’s when or why he opted to pick up the moniker “Strange” as opposed to using his real surname.

A further scroll through his brief Wikipedia listing to the “Read More” section suggests the reader check out The National (whose music he has covered), Bon Iver or Mal Blum. Elsewhere, the write-up mentions his involvement in a non-profit environmental organisation in the US capital.

All of this points, albeit subtly, to some of the melancholy and diverse output on Farm to Table, his second full studio album.

It’s a mixed bag, to be fair. He shifts between straight up radio-friendly rock, early Kanye West-style digital-infused voice-modified… er…  electro-pop, straight folk and modern country.

The lyrical content deals with some pretty emotional stuff – two examples Hold the Line (inspired by George Floyd’s daughter), Heavy Heart (cryptic references to God and a broken relationship), Tours (the challenge of being raised in a military family with a parent away on active duty) and Wretched (another one on the break-up theme).

I must admit this isn’t the sort of album or artist I would usually go for. Bartees and his band don’t fit conveniently into one my preferred musical boxes, a box easily ticked as “this” or “that”. Listening to all this album presented a moderate challenge, shimmying between the link provided for review and the rest of the album via YouTube and other digital platforms to ensure I heard the whole lot.

What shines through with Bartees is the intensity of thought he puts into his music. This is not disposable anonymous pop or rock cranked out to meet the contractual obligations he signed up to with 4AD – a label with a strong track record for releasing non-mainstream music that still proves accessible and listenable. On Bartees there’s depth and emotion bubbling through every tune, always giving the listener something to stop and contemplate – most prominently evident on the impressive soulful semi-jazz cut Hennessy.

Bartees Strange’s music will reflect a lot of broken-hearted and frustrated people’s moods, and it’ll be no surprise if he crops up in New Zealand in the next couple of years on a smaller stage at a music festival. He’d be well worth the 45-minute time-slot the festival’s programming people will likely give him.

Although this isn’t one of my preferred flavours, if I find myself at this festival, and Bartees is on stage – I’d definitely go for a look.

A decent and diverse listen, all things told.

-Jeff Neems

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Instagram: @jeffwiththerecord

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