The New Zealand quartet outdo themselves on an album of flawless indie rock with hooks big enough to catch a whale
When The Beths burst out of Auckland in 2018 with their brilliantly scruffy debut Future Me Hates Me, singer/songwriter/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes said the music was a reaction to a lifetime of jazz school and trumpet lessons. The immediacy, size and shininess of the hooks certainly reinforced that claim, the band’s infectious buoyancy at times edging towards pop punk – surely the musical antithesis of jazz. Follow-up Jump Rope Gazers leaned even harder into the band’s pop instincts en route to becoming one of 2020’s catchiest albums.
With their third album, Expert In A Dying Field, The Beths don’t do anything dramatic like changing course or adding jarring jazz rhythms to their accessible indie rock. This is more a refinement of the abilities that have made them so damn lovable, and it’s immediately obvious that they have done a hell of a lot of refining. There are 12 songs on Expert In A Dying Field and any of them could be the song of the year.
The first sign of further refinement is Stokes’ gift for balancing affecting sentiment with wise-ass comments, like someone cloaking their breaking heart with nonchalant humour. No sooner has she claimed: “Plausible deniability / I swear I’ve never heard of it” than she’s delivering the knockout: “I can close the door on us / But the room still exists”. At their best, Stokes’ lyrics come off as plainspoken poetry of heart-stopping profundity and honesty.
You’d love to claim that the objectively perfect ‘Expert In A Dying Field’ is unbetterable, but then the chorus of ‘Knees Deep’ hits like a hidden explosion of sherbet inside a hard sweet (The Beths would call it a lolly). It’s a glorious technicolour moment, even though Stokes is singing about the shame she feels at her lack of emotional bravery. By the end of the third track, the staccato ‘Silence Is Golden’, you’d physically fight anyone who didn’t get it. By the end of the fourth, the sweetly gorgeous ‘Your Side’, it’s nothing short of love.
Some bands evolve rapidly, perpetually moving like sharks, finding new territory with each new record. The Beths just keep getting better at what they’re good at: writing fantastic songs which they arrange and produce judiciously. They started off being pretty great, which puts them about two years away from writing the best pop song of all time. They’re already damn close.
Expert In A Dying Field is out 16 September on Carpark Records and all major streaming platforms.