Music Reviews
Live Forever

Bartees Strange Live Forever

(Memory Music) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Much has been said about Bartees Strange’s range, but it’s worth repeating. Despite breaking onto the music scene with 2020’s Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, a cover EP of The National’s indie-rock songs, Strange is one of the most genre-averse musicians we have working today. On his debut album, he’s willing to jump from DaBaby-influenced rap rock (Boomer) to heartbreaking acoustic tunes (Fallen For You) without batting an eye. The entire appeal of Live Forever is the musical omnivore behind the vocals and every instrument. Strange is the sort of songwriter who can never write two songs that sound the same, but manages to give his album a cohesive feel by the sheer power of his personality. There’s no reason for the glitchy soul of Mossblerd to work, especially when it’s following the haunting PBR&B of Flagey God, but Strange is enough of a force to mostly pull it off.

Despite only breaking through earlier this year, the mythos around Bartees Strange is already strong. Born in England, raised in Oklahoma—and toured around the country in an opera group in his childhood—it’s not hard to see why the Washington D.C.-based musician is one of the most unique breakout stars of this year. Easy comparisons to Moses Sumney and Algiers are made in this album’s press release, but there’s no one else making the bit-crushed soul of Kelly Roland and the haunting horn-laced rock of In a Cab back to back. It’s rare that a one-man band lives up to the hype, but Strange drums with incredible tightness, writes unforgettably acrobatic guitar lines, and sings like no one else. There’s an anxiety to his voice on nearly every song that’s one of the most appealing things put to tape all year.

Under the guidance of producer Will Yip, Strange proves that he can handle jungling styles even if he doesn’t always stick the landing. Take the closer, Ghostly, which has some of Strange’s best lyrics but shuffles around awkwardly until it ends. The chaos of a full-throated rocker like Stone Meadows works for the most part, even though reverb threatens to consume the mix by the end. Thankfully, these moments are rare. Far feels a little off at first, as Strange waxes poetic over atmospheric acoustic guitars, but soon the song explodes into a rollicking groove. It’s rare for an artist to capture that sort of catharsis in song, much less on their first album. Despite Live Forever not being perfect, Bartees Strange swings for the fences on every song here. It’s exciting just to watch it unfold in front of your eyes.