Photo Courtesy of Carpark Records
The Beths rock, and the simplest way to back up that assertion comes in the form of its catchy new album, Jump Rope Gazers.
On the Auckland band’s second full-length, The Beths not only refines the charged indie pop songwriting and production that made its 2018 debut so charming, but also retains the witty lyrics and sun soaked playing that’s made the quartet one of the most exciting groups to emerge from Oceania in recent memory.
It’s difficult to listen to the lyrics of lead singer and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes without being taken by their cleverness. Stokes animates Jump Rope Gazers with a variety of thoughtful lines that explore love and interpersonal relationships, and are fittingly more cheeky than self-serious.
“I keep a flame burning inside/If you need to bum a light,” she offers on the excellent single, “Out Of Sight.” Elsewhere, on the chorus of the album’s closer, “Just Shy of Sure,” she contemplates unrequited love, a major theme throughout the album, most perfectly in the lyrics, “You still want me/I’m the one you adore/But I’m just shy of sure.”
Stokes also uses her conversational tone on the new LP to exorcise feelings of self-doubt, with several of her lyrics functioning as a reassuring balm to listeners feeling the same way. “Like an arrow always missing/I’m always missing,” she sings on the tropical sounding track, “Acrid.” Likewise, on the self-critical anthem, “Do You Want Me Now,” she relates, “I can’t remember if I like myself at all.” Lines such as these add personal depth to an otherwise lighthearted album.
All of Stokes’ lyrical observations are bolstered by catchy guitar melodies, steady bass lines and unobtrusive drumming. When he’s not plucking spacey notes or palm-muting verses, guitarist Jonathan Pearce breaks out into a number of brief but raucous guitar solos such as on the opener, “I’m Not Getting Excited,” or during the bridge of “Acrid.”
The Beths’ rhythm section composed of bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck keep each song tight and lively, and especially shine on the song, “Dying To Believe.” As far as the album’s tracklist and production go, there’s little left to be desired. Every track feels polished and nearly all of them add momentum to the album’s runtime of close to 40 minutes.
The album’s title track, “Jump Rope Gazers,” is arguably the catchiest song on the whole thing. In addition to strong imagery and emotions, the song’s cryptic but intriguing chorus lyrics, “How could this happen/We were jump rope gazers in the middle of the night,” gives it an impressionistic hook that will lead listeners to come up with their own meanings. Of all the title tracks I’ve reviewed for this site, “Jump Rope Gazers” is the most memorable I’ve come across so far.
But not every song on the album rises to the greatness of its title track. Two songs on the back half of Jump Rope Gazers — the choppy “Mars, the God of War,” and the sparse, fingerpicked outlier, “You Are a Beam of Light” — lack the energy of the previous songs and feel slightly less developed. Luckily, the spirited closer, “Just Sure or Shy,” reignites a sense of excitement, ending the record with the oomph absent in two tracks leading up to it.
But, aside from a few sonic experiments gone awry, The Beths’ new LP is everything you could ask for in a sophomore album. It builds upon what worked for the band on its debut and branches out into new styles and musical territory while offering a string of catchy singles.
Early in the album, Stokes sings the succinct lyrics, “It burns me/But I’m smiling through the heat.” And, with its relatable lyrics on love, uncertainty and self doubt floating atop sunny, pop rock instrumentals, Jump Rope Gazers might have you smiling through the heat, as well.