The Beths are from Auckland, New Zealand, where they met at jazz school. Guitarist Jonathan Pearce stated that playing jazz provided a “very clear idea of what we didn’t want to do”. Instead, the quartet reverted to the music they loved in their youth, 1990s guitar rock, infused with the pop sensibility of The Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’ or Weezer’s Blue Album.
Songwriter Elizabeth Stokes started playing in the folk duo Teacup at the age of 14, while she worked as a trumpet teacher before concentrating on The Beths. Pearce, Stokes, and bassist Benjamin Sinclair all played in original drummer Ivan Luketina-Johnston’s swing band. While the group’s instrumental prowess isn’t a focus, their musical training shows the most clearly in their vocal arrangements, which are often intricate.
The Beths Album Reviews
Future Me Hates Me
Like one of my favourite 2017 records, Charly Bliss’ Guppy, The Beths’ power-pop is rooted in 1990s guitar-rock. But where Charly Bliss’ vocals are high-pitched and excitable, The Beths’ Elizabeth Stokes is a typically deadpan New Zealander. Stokes’ likeable, low-key personality is upfront in the album’s most immediate song; the title track has Stokes delivering self-effacing lines like:
Future heart break, future headaches
Wide eyed nights late lying awake
With future cold shakes from stupid mistakes
Future me hates me for, hates me for
On songs like ‘Happy Unhappy’, the hooks come from the surprisingly ornate backing vocals. Power pop can be a limiting genre, but there’s enough boundary-pushing to suggest that The Beths have ideas beyond punchy guitars and big choruses. ‘River Run: Lvl 1’ and ‘Less Than Thou’, both towards the back end of Future Me Hate Me, feature slower tempos and sludgier guitars.
The Beths have received plenty of attention for this excellent 2018 debut, with positive write-ups in tastemakers like Rolling Stone and Pitchfork. I’m a little embarrassed it’s taken me so long to pick up on it – I only noticed when it started placing well on year-end lists – but it’s an excellent record, wry and tuneful.
Jump Rope Gazers
Power pop is a great genre for one-hit wonders and a tough one for sophomore albums. It’s a straightforward genre, based on youthful energy and vibrant hooks, and it’s easy for subsequent records to sound like retreads. The Beths’ sophomore record Jump Rope Gazers does a good job of balancing power pop thrills with some exploration in other directions. Ivan Luketina-Johnston left The Beths to concentrate on his swing band Sal Valentine, and he was replaced by Tristan Deck.
Energetic songs like ‘Dying to Believe’ are boosted by clever arrangements – the double-tracked guitars and virtuoso drumming in the introduction indicate that Pearce, Sinclair, and Deck could form a respectable metal band. Typical of Stokes’ deadpan persona, the most upbeat song is titled ‘I’m Not Getting Excited’. On ‘Mars the God of War’, Stokes uses clever metaphors to condemn internet trolls. The slower songs show growth. Stokes is yearning and vulnerable on ‘Do You Want Me Now’, while shimmering guitars underpin ‘Jump Rope Gazers’. The band go full acoustic on the pretty ‘You Are A Beam of Light’, while the closer ‘Just Shy of Sure’ updates the Flying Nun sound of the 1980s.
Jump Rope Gazers has been getting less attention than their debut, Future Me Hates Me, even though The Beths do a great job of growing and expanding their sound.
EXPERT IN A DYING FIELD
The Beths have gone through the “difficult” second album, always a difficult challenge in power-pop where it’s often hard to expand your band’s sound. On their third album, they excel on the mellow material where they can utilise their harmonies, a strong point for this technically accomplished group.
There’s a range of moods on Expert in a Dying Field – the title track is attention-grabbing with its relatable central premise. The misleadingly titled ‘Silence is Golden’ pushes close to punk, while ‘Head in the Clouds’ is perky power-pop. ‘2am’ is a lovely, gentle closer and ‘I Want to Listen’ is driven by an acoustic jangle.
Expert in a Dying Field is a strong third album, an accomplished band showing expertise in the guitar-pop field.
Best The Beths Songs
Future Me Hates Me
Jump Rope Gazers
Just Shy of Sure
Silence is Golden
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