Review: Bartees Strange’s Unexplainable Art Will ‘Live Forever’

Bartees Strange © Bao Ngo
In his debut album, ‘Live Forever,’ Bartees Strange shows off his chops as an inventive indie rock whiz.
Listen: ‘Live Forever’ – Bartees Strange 

Pinning down the right words for Bartees Strange’s debut album has proven to an incredibly difficult task. This is all because Strange is so damn inventive throughout his debut album Live Forever. Granted, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Strange was an opera singer and choir boy turned indie rock enthusiast, as revealed by a September interview with Stereogum. Live Forever feels more like a magnum opus than a debut album, and its hard to believe that the only real release Strange had before this record was a [very good] collection of National covers.

Live Forever- Bartees Strange
Live Forever- Bartees Strange

Fusing modern rap beats and anthemic indie rock, Live Forever is refreshing while feeling incredibly familiar. Overall, the album feels like if Tyler, the Creator (“In a Cab”) was the fifth member of The Killers (“Stone Meadows”), but it also has moments that delve into Death Grips-style abrasive hip hop (“Mossblerd”) or Bon Iver-like intimate folk (“Fallen for You”). It’s hard to pin a specific genre onto this record, but Strange weaves in and out so simply and authoritatively that it never feels jerky or forced.

I can’t even lift my hands up
That’s what we dance for lord, I’m going in
And right when I get all of my hopes up,
something explodes lord
I never win
Boomer,” Bartees Strange

Live Forever reckons with existential dread, race, and class struggles. The album’s standout single “Boomer” is all at once a celebration of life, an acknowledgement of young adult confusion, and a big fucking question mark as to why people don’t talk about these things. In the songs prechorus, Strange acknowledges that that most people will “say what they wanna say” and “smoke what they wanna smoke,” and he won’t talk about how he doesn’t know what he wants. In the chorus, he belts out conflicting emotions while, still, at the bridge he vows resilience.

Tracks like “Mossblerd” and “Mustang” both address racial inequality in incredibly differentiating ways. “Mossblerd” is direct in its call outs of systemic racism but “Mustang” uses the driving post-punk to put a more personal touch on the song. The song, which is named for Strange’s longtime home in Oklahoma, addresses imposter syndrome (‘To have a life you love but know you’re undeserving‘), but also dreams of something better: ‘I hate America/I just wait for my horses now.’ The song ends with a spine-chilling scream that could put most hardcore vocalists to shame, demanding people to actually pay attention to the issues he’s raising.

I came with a mouth full of blood
I’m hurt ’cause no one can see me
Don’t ask, why don’t I
Want to give you solace
Tie me up
Mustang,” Bartees Strange

The album’s two penultimate tracks address death and love. The country punk epic “Far” is a passionate meditation on the fleeting nature of life and wanting to hold onto the things you love and dreaming of a better place (‘I believe a world that’s black and gold‘). “Fallen for You” addresses similar themes to loss, but it also has someone to take solace in besides the self.

Ghostly” closes the album with solemnity, while feeling like its put a bow on everything else that Live Forever has done. The fusing styles are there, but the 31 year-old singer reflects on his past and the people that are no longer there. For an expansive and warm song, its incredibly cold and lonely. Despite the album’s final verse having dire lyrics, the chugging guitars feel like a ladder out of the darkness that occupies a lot of the album.

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Stream: ‘Live Forever’ – Bartees Strange 

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Live Forever- Bartees Strange

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