When it seems that the future has nothing left to offer, who can blame anyone tempted by hedonistic forays into the fertile lands of here-and-now? Tomorrow never comes, after all. There’s nothing more immediate and carefree than New Zealand’s The Beths. Their debut album Future Me Hates Me, drowns any existential hand-wringing in a blissful bath of delightful high-energy guitar pop, convincing us that life and love really are worth all the hassle.
As we’ve come to expect from the indie-pop format, joyful vocal harmonies are always counterbalanced by downbeat lyrics and, on this at least, The Beths do not step off beam. However, from the jarring, syncopated melody of opener ‘Great No One’ which eventually fights its way through a melee of scratchy guitar and false downbeats, it’s clear that this band likes to keep things interesting. In the midst of all this mischief is chief Beth, primary songwriter and vocalist-guitarist Elizabeth Stokes, whose warm, unassuming voice reminiscent of Laura Jean keeps things grounded.
The title track introduces us to the signature sound for most of the album: sly, witty lyrics, supercharged riffs, gorgeous cadences melting into sing-along choruses. In other words, the sound of a band of friends surfing the golden crest of classic feel-good music, with big grins on their faces. Where forty or fifty years ago, that band would have been a world-worn loner, crooning away surrounded by female harmonising backing singers, The Beths flip that formula and add a dash of rebellious wholeheartedness.
All four members (Stokes, guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Ivan Luketina-Johnston) studied jazz at the University of Auckland and that leftfield influence sometimes comes through. Take ‘Uptown Girl’, a drunken downtown post-break-up-blow-out that staggers about through key changes and biting punk riffs, while somehow holding onto all its self-destructive faculties: “I’m going to drink the whole town dry / put poison in my wine and hope that you’re the one who dies”. Moving into ‘You Wouldn’t Like Me’ and then ‘Not Running’ we’re shown two sides of a fickle love story, one which keeps us hooked and guessing the end, which perfectly sums up Future Me Hates Me. It just works, without pretence or grandstanding even with all its stadium-size hand clapping and guitar shredding ambitions.
One track in particular we kept going back to is the (literally) orgasmic ‘Little Death’, Stokes’ chorus lead-in completely nails that fearful sense of losing yourself completely to the desire for someone else. Elsewhere, ‘Happy Unhappy’ gives the kitchen-sink twee of Belle & Sebastian a punk makeover, while the more introspective ‘River Run Lvl 1’ provides a welcome change of pace. Pearce’s production lays a gloss of nostalgia and warmth over much of the album, bringing out the glistening chimes of guitar arpeggios and tube amp crackle of ’60s pop on ‘Whatever’. Final track, ‘Less Than Thou’ is one part poetic folk, one part power ballad and builds up to a satisfying close, a rare thing.
Repeat plays are just as rewarding as the first time, but somehow those first moments of ‘Great No One’ still snag, catching you against the grain of the song you expect to hear. But then Future Me Hates Me turns a lot of things on their head and, if you’re like us, it will only make you want to play it all the more.
Future Me Hates Me is released on 10th August 2018 through Carpark Records.