One of the profound pleasures of listening to the music Bartees Strange makes is also one of its most confounding elements: Just how, precisely, is a person supposed to describe what Strange’s songs sound like?
To date, the English-born, Oklahoma-bred and Washington, D.C.-based singer-songwriter hasn’t so much blurred genre boundaries as completely disregarded them.
His sophomore album, Farm to Table, is wonderfully indefinable — anthemic, guitar-driven alt-rock bleeds into rap cadences studded with jolts of brass and achingly vulnerable lyrics, adorned by avant-garde visual flourishes.
“It’s funny — people ask me, ‘Why do you make music that’s so everything?’” Strange said during a recent conversation from his Washington, D.C. home. “Because nobody’s one thing — everybody is everything. We all listen to and experience life through music and art and content from a variety of sources. My friends who love Garth Brooks love Megan Thee Stallion; Parliament Funkadelic fans loved Fleetwood Mac. Neil Young fans love Rick James. … If I make whatever I feel, even if it’s a little rangy, I think people are still gonna appreciate it.”
“Appreciate” feels like a narrow way of describing the ecstatic response the 33-year-old singer-songwriter has engendered to date: “He’s got the goods … Strange excels at drawing the listener in close before slingshotting them to another plane entirely,” wrote the Washington Post earlier this month.
Positive press and extracurricular opportunities — Strange has quietly built a rewarding sideline as a producer, working with artists like Hannah Georgas and Oceanator — aren’t always reliable indicators of future security, but Strange feels encouraged by the professional developments of the last 12 months.
Moreover, while simple categorization may elude Strange’s style, its impact is both quantifiable — and considerable.
“As I’m now watching things grow — shows, tickets, record sales — I’m like, ‘OK, I feel more confident that I’ll have a career long-term,’” he said. “Now, it’s kind of grown to being like, ‘What do I want to actually do with music? What makes me feel good? What do I think is inspiring other people, and encouraging them to make things too?’
“Because I do feel like everyone’s capable of making things, and making things … is the thing that’s kind of saved my life, and it’s made my life worth living. That’s the whole point for me — more so than the final product.”
Bartees Strange at Deep Ellum Art Company, Dallas. 8 p.m. Nov. 30. Tickets are $17.
Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.