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THE BETHS

The Beths

Expert In A Dying Field

    The third LP from the New Zealand quartet houses 12 jewels of tight, guitar-heavy songs that worm their way into your head, an incandescent collision of power-pop and skuzz. With Expert, The Beths wanted to make an album meant to be experienced live, for both the listeners and themselves. They wanted it to be fun -- to hear, to play -- in spite of the prickling anxiety throughout the lyrics, the fear of change and struggle to cope.

    Most of Expert was recorded at guitarist Jonathan Pearce’s studio on Karangahape Road in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (Auckland, New Zealand) -- and sometimes in the building's cavernous stairwell at 1am -- toward the end of 2021, until they were interrupted by a four-month national lockdown. They traded notes remotely for months, songwriting from afar and fleshing out the arrangements alone, the first time they’d written together in such a way. The following February, The Beths left the country for the first time in more than two years to tour across the US, and simultaneously finish mixing the album on the road. That latter half felt more collaborative, with everyone on-hand to trade notes in real time, until it all culminated in a chaotic three-day studio mad-dash in Los Angeles. There, Expert finally became the record they were hearing in their heads.

    Expert is an extension of the same skuzzy palette the band has built across their catalog, pop hooks embedded in incisive indie rock. The album’s title track “Expert In A Dying Field” introduces the thesis for the record: “How does it feel to be an expert in a dying field? How do you know it’s over when you can’t let go?” Stokes asks. “Love is learned over time ‘til you’re an expert in a dying field.”

    The rest is a capsule of The Beths’ most electrifying and exciting output, a sonic spectrum: “Your Side” is a forlorn and sincere love song, emotive; while “Silence is Golden,” with its propulsive drum line and stop-start staccato of a guitar line winding up and down, is one of the band’s sharpest and most driving. “When You Know You Know” skews a bit groovier, pure pop and a natural addition to the band’s live set. “Knees Deep” was written last minute, but yields one of the best guitar lines on Expert. There’s a certain chaos across the 12 tracks, the palpable joy of playing music with long-time friends colliding with the raw nerves of pain.

    Stokes strings it all together through her singular songwriting lens, earnest and self-effacing, zeroing in on the granules of doubt and how they snowball. Did I do the wrong thing? Or did you? And are we still good people at the end of it? She isn’t interested in villains, but instead interested in just telling the story. That insecurity and thoughtfulness, translated into universality and understanding, has been the guiding light of The Beths’ output since 2016. In the face of pain, there’s no dwelling on internal anguish - instead, through The Beths’ music, our shortcomings are met with acceptance. And Expert In A Dying Field is the most tactile that tenderness has been. 


    TRACK LISTING

    1. Expert In A Dying Field
    2. Knees Deep
    3. Silence Is Golden
    4. Your Side
    5. I Want To Listen
    6. Head In The Clouds
    7. Best Left
    8. Change In The Weather
    9. When You Know You Know
    10. A Passing Rain
    11. I Told You That I Was Afraid
    12. 2am

    The Beths

    Auckland, New Zealand, 2020

      The anticipation is there in Elizabeth Stokes’ solo guitar riff under the opening lines of “I’m Not Getting Excited”: a frenetic, driving force daring a packed Auckland Town Hall to do exactly the opposite of what the track title suggests.

      As the opener of The Beths’ Auckland, New Zealand, 2020 expands to include the full band, the crowd screeches and bellows. It’s a collective exhalation, in one of the few countries where live music is still possible.

      The album title, and film of the same name, deliberately include the date and location, lead guitarist Jonathan Pearce says. “That’s the sensational part of what we actually did.” In a mid-pandemic world, playing to a heaving, enraptured home crowd feels miraculous.

      In March 2020, everything seemed on track for another huge year for The Beths. Home after an 18-month northern hemisphere tour, they had just finished recording sophomore album Jump Rope Gazers and were primed for more extensive touring. But within days, New Zealand’s lockdown split the band between three separate houses. All touring was cancelled.

      “It was existentially bad,” Stokes says. As well as worrying about economic survival, they lost something crucial to the band’s identity: live performance. “It's a huge part of how we see ourselves... What does it mean, if we can't play live?”

      The band found an outlet through live-streaming, returning to the do-it-yourself mentality of their early days to connect with a global audience. The album and film have their genesis in that urge to share the now-rare experience of a live show, as widely as possible.

      The fuzzy-round-the-edges live-streams pointed the way aesthetically. Native birds, wonkily crafted by the band from tissue paper and wire, festoon the venue’s cavernous ceiling while house plants soften and disguise the imposing pipes of an organ. The presence of the film crew isn’t disguised: much of the camerawork is handheld; full of fast zooms and pans.

      With much of the material still fresh, the band was less focused on re-invention than playing “a good, fast rock show”, Pearce says. The tempo is up on crowd favourites “Whatever” and “Future Me Hates Me” (released as a live single on its third anniversary) as both band and audience feed off the mutual energy in the room.

      Certain songs have taken on special resonance post-Covid. Pearce has found “Out Of Sight”, a tender rumination on long-distance relationships, hits particularly hard with live audiences.

      Album closer “River Run” visibly brings Stokes to tears as a mix of achievement and relief kicks in. “You can finally relax at that point … You play the last note, breathe out a sigh and look up - and you’re in a giant room full of people happy and smiling.”


      TRACK LISTING

      1. I'm Not Getting Excited - LIve
      2. Great No One - Live
      3. Whatever - Live
      4. Mars, The God Of War - Live
      5. Future Me Hates Me - Live
      6. Introduction
      7. Jump Rope Gazers - Live
      8. Uptown Girl - Live
      9. Bird Talk
      10. Happy Unhappy - Live
      11. Out Of Sight - Live
      12. Thank You
      13. Don't Go Away - Live
      14. Little Death - Live
      15. Dying To Believe - Live
      16. River Run - Live

      The Beths

      Jump Rope Gazers

        Everything changed for The Beths when they released their above mentioned debut album, Future Me Hates Me, in 2018. The indie rock band had long been nurtured within Auckland, New Zealand’s tight-knit music scene, working full-time during the day and playing music with friends after hours. Full of uptempo pop rock songs with bright, indelible hooks, the LP garnered them critical acclaim from outlets like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, and they set out for their first string of shows overseas. They quit their jobs, said goodbye to their home town, and devoted themselves entirely to performing across North America and Europe. They found themselves playing to crowds of devoted fans and opening for acts like Pixies and Death Cab for Cutie. Almost instantly, The Beths turned from a passion project into a full-time career in music.

        Songwriter and lead vocalist Elizabeth Stokes worked on what would become The Beths’ second LP, Jump Rope Gazers, in between these intense periods of touring. Like the group’s earlier music, the album tackles themes of anxiety and self-doubt with effervescent power pop choruses and rousing backup vocals, zeroing in on the communality and catharsis that can come from sharing stressful situations with some of your best friends. Stokes’s writing on Jump Rope Gazers grapples with the uneasy proposition of leaving everything and everyone you know behind on another continent, chasing your dreams while struggling to stay close with loved ones back home.

        "If you're at a certain age, all your friends scatter to the four winds,” Stokes says. “We did the same thing. When you're home, you miss everybody, and when you're away, you miss everybody. We were just missing people all the time.”

        With songs like the rambunctious “Dying To Believe” and the tender, shoegazey “Out of Sight,” The Beths reckon with the distance that life necessarily drives between people over time. People who love each other inevitably fail each other. “I’m sorry for the way that I can’t hold conversations/They’re such a fragile thing to try to support the weight of,” Stokes sings on “Dying to Believe.” The best way to repair that failure, in The Beths’ view, is with abundant and unconditional love, no matter how far it has to travel. On “Out of Sight,” she pledges devotion to a dearly missed friend: “If your world collapses/I’ll be down in the rubble/I’d build you another,” she sings.

        “It was a rough year in general, and I found myself saying the words, 'wish you were here, wish I was there,’ over and over again,” she says of the time period in which the album was written. Touring far from home, The Beths committed themselves to taking care of each other as they were trying at the same time to take care of friends living thousands of miles away. They encouraged each other to communicate whenever things got hard, and to pay forward acts of kindness whenever they could. That care and attention shines through on Jump Rope Gazers, where the quartet sounds more locked in than ever. Their most emotive and heartfelt work to date, Jump Rope Gazers stares down all the hard parts of living in communion with other people, even at a distance, while celebrating the ferocious joy that makes it all worth it -- a sentiment we need now more than ever.


        STAFF COMMENTS

        Barry says: I've always liked a bit of The Beths to be honest, having heard them innocently enough in the shop some time ago, and their latest outing is even more evidence as to why. Brilliantly melodic swathes of guitar and perfectly produced percussion form a superb backdrop to the undeniably poppy-punk drive of Stokes' voice.

        TRACK LISTING

        1. I'm Not Getting Excited
        2. Dying To Believe
        3. Jump Rope Gazers
        4. Acrid
        5. Do You Want Me Now
        6. Out Of Sight
        7. Don't Go Away
        8. Mars, The God Of War
        9. You Are A Beam Of Light
        10. Just Shy Of Sure

        The Beths from New Zealand occupy a warm, energetic sonic space between joyful hooks, sun-soaked harmonies, and acerbic lyrics. Their debut album Future Me Hates Me, forthcoming on Carpark Records, delivers an astonishment of roadtrip-ready pleasures, each song hitting your ears with an exhilarating endorphin rush like the first time you heard The Breeders/Jale/Veruca Salt..

        Front and center on these ten infectious tracks is lead singer and primary songwriter Elizabeth Stokes. Stokes has previously worked in other genres within Auckland’s rich and varied music scene, recently playing in a folk outfit, but it was in exploring the angst-ridden sounds of her youth that she found her place. “Fronting this kind of band was a new experience for me,” says Stokes. “I never thought I had the right voice for it.”

        From the irresistible title track to future singles “Happy Unhappy” and “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” Stokes commands a vocal range that spans from the brash confidence of Joan Jett to the disarming vulnerability of Jenny Lewis. Further honeying Future Me Hates Me’s dark lyrics that explore complex topics like being newly alone and the self-defeating anticipation of impending regret, ecstatic vocal harmonies bubble up like in the greatest pop and R+B of the ‘60s, while inverting the trope of the “sad dude singer accompanied by a homogenous girl-sound.”

        All four members of The Beths studied jazz at university, resulting in a toolkit of deft instrumental chops and tricked-out arrangements that operate on a level rarely found in guitar-pop. Beths guitarist and studio guru Jonathan Pearce (whose other acts as producer include recent Captured Tracks signing Wax Chattels) brings it all home with an approach that’s equal parts seasoned perfectionist and D.I.Y.

        “There’s a lot of sad sincerity in the lyrics,” she continues, “that relies on the music having a light heart and sense of humor to keep it from being too earnest.” Channeling their stew of personal-canon heroes while drawing inspiration from contemporaries like Alvvays and Courtney Barnett, The Beths serve up deeply emotional lyrics packaged within heavenly sounds that delight in probing the limits of the pop form. “That’s another New Zealand thing,” Stokes concludes with a laugh. “We’re putting our hearts on our sleeves—and then apologizing for it.” The result is nothing less than one of the standout records of 2018.


        STAFF COMMENTS

        David says: The antipodean onslaught continues with New Zealand's The Beths. 'Future Me Hates Me' is the shortest, sharpest most bittersweet collection of three minute pop songs we've heard this year.

        TRACK LISTING

        1. Great No One
        2. Future Me Hates Me
        3. Uptown Girl
        4. You Wouldn't Like Me
        5. Not Running
        6. Little Death
        7. Happy Unhappy
        8. River Run: Lvl
        9. Whatever
        10. Less Than Thou


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