By all conventional wisdom, The Beths should have arrived in 2018 just to say “hello!” and then never be heard from again. After all, their debut album ‘Future Me Hates Me’ saw the Auckland quartet serve up fuzzy, gently ironic power pop that in lesser hands would be indistinguishable from the garage band next door.
The Beths stood out, however, not just because their songs were catchy as hell but because they were rendered with palpable exuberance. The guitars sounded wonderfully brash, the drums teetered on the edge of chaos and, most notably, chatty vocal harmonies from guitarist Jonathan Pearce kept jolting out of nowhere as if he couldn’t help himself from piping up and sending these songs over the top. The album’s sonic delights were as entrancing as the songs themselves — this was music that dared you not to like it.
The Beths have now returned with ‘Jump Rope Gazers’, a second album that adopts a decidedly different approach: not so much leaping out of their songs as inviting its listener in. The lyrics are denser, the music moodier and every sound is more studied and measured. While ‘Future Me Hates Me’ was a mostly chipper affair — its title track expressing regret and self-loathing through a kind of droll, winking meme-speak — ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ shows its true colours during ‘Dying To Believe’, which is genuinely sinister in its assessment of chasing someone who you know is no good. “I’m dying to believe,” Elizabeth Stokes sings, “that you won’t be the death of me.”
In this and other ways The Beths do sound more mature, like they’re purposefully making their second album rather than just remaking their first. The instrumentation adopts new patterns, a slew of effects pedals are trotted out and a far more spacious style of production is utilised to highlight all of these intricacies. On the title track they veer into full-on balladeering, a direction the first record never even approaches, with the whistle-clean and unabashedly wistful end product sounding like it could be a long-lost Cranberries outtake. With genre, performance and production, the band are trying new things here — and that alone is worth something.
But it’s not worth sacrificing all of the traits that made The Beths truly irresistible on their first go — not least Pearce’s giddy back-up singing, which is all but muted here. There’s a newfound sense of workmanship, but that fact alone is each song’s defining feature. The irony of ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ is that as The Beths push themselves to do something different for album number two, they actually end up with the sonic sameness that the first record miraculously avoided. Only now do they sound like they could just be any other band.
The Beths – ‘Jump Rope Gazers’
- Release date: July 10
- Record label: Carpark / Rough Trade