I missed Live Forever in 2020, and I regret it; Bartees Strange’ debut was a whirling blur of indie rock, soul, emo, and rap where the careening ideas and terrific delivery showed so much potential that you could overlook iffy production, which still led to critical acclaim. This plays like a sequel: with newfound attention, it’s ‘now what’, where the emotional kaleidoscope spans winking flexes, imposter syndrome anxiety, overworked tension amidst late capitalism, and the angst it could make him lose track of his family and parents, even as he feels himself becoming them; he wants to build something that lasts, and cuts like ‘Hold The Line’ show he knows fellow Black folks who’ll never get that chance.
Shame after ‘Wretched’ the project’s momentum flags and the excellent guitarwork and groove can’t punch through the still cluttered production even on ‘Escape This Circus’, a late standout. It’s pensive yearning that starts so strong… just can’t sustain it. Very good, not great.