Bartees Strange’s latest release is a journey of self-discovery. An attempt to surpass barriers, to express oneself through the rich musical traditions of America, to shake up and question the established racial boundaries. A work that is executed with finesse and mastery that demands attention. Live Forever is a strong statement, one that will undoubtedly ripple through the landscape and spark the curiosity of listeners and creators alike.
A lot of this album reflects Strange’s formative years. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood has both strengthened his musical influences while igniting his frustrations within. Clearly, there is still a tendency for people to pigeonhole artists into genres based on their appearance, but this album attempts to question those habits while delivering a rich and diverse alternative.
Gospel hymns, rap verses, R&B croons, jazz instrumentations, electronica, blues rock and folk are just one of the many styles that Strange weaves through with vigor. “Jealousy” is a hymnal meditation that showcases Strange’s gentle vocals. “Mustang” is a contemporary rock autobiographical that features the anxieties of life in his hometown: “It’s nice to think that folks are near, waking up was hard this year”. “Boomer” mixes rap and rock, with nods to the rousing choruses of Fallout Boy while seamlessly shifting into blues-rock in the bridge.
One highlight of Strange’s artistry is his flexible songwriting fluidity, one that fits to whatever genre or style he’s using. In his rap cuts, he writes about growing up with a chip on his shoulder, with dreams of getting rich. “Kelly Rowland” references him growing up “Broke ass” with “versace dreams”. In “Mossblerd” he rants about “genres keep us in our boxes”. The former is draped in smooth R&B while the latter evokes a gloomy trip-hop electronic soundscape. Elsewhere, in his folk-inspired songs he references life in small towns, with illustrations of nature and lost love, staples of the genre that he has beautifully adapted as his own. “Far” takes a few nods at early minimalism of Bon Iver while “Fallen for You” has the soft-rock stylings of Kings of Leon.
Between the craftsmanship and Strange’s stellar vocal performances, one would have to try so hard to not find something to enjoy in this record. This is truly a great piece of work in every dimension, with the fire and hunger still burning bright for a relatively new artist. A brightness that should resonate through the years. Live Forever is something that everyone should check out.