The word-of-mouth success of New Zealand-based The Beths first record, Future Me Hates Me, was one of 2018’s most heart-warming stories. Despite modest coverage, it still managed to connect, thanks to the incredibly tight playing and hook-filled songs. It takes skill to make a combination of indie and power-pop sound so fresh, and The Beths encapsulated the best of both genres. Elizabeth Stokes’ defined songwriting is full of painful truths, humour, clever wordplay and so much heart. It was a perfect debut, like Beauty & The Beat, The Blue Album, Alvvays, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever and Mass Romantic, where you wonder if the band can convey their personality through such brilliant, infectious songwriting a second time.
The Beths haven’t had any issue following their flawless debut. They immediately hit their stride with the first single, ‘Dying To Believe’, where the band display their warmly familiar, compact arrangements It has the same bitter-sweetness of Future Me Hates Me, as the zestful melody contrasts with the sorrow of Stokes’ insecurity — “I won’t try to interrupt you, high and mighty and unlikely to learn lessons, these days I’m struggling to stand my own reflection patterns”. The controlled build in the middle eight is wondrous, as are the dipping harmonies that feel like a dazzling victory lap.
Everything continues to be in sync on ‘I’m Not Getting Excited’, which starts the record with exuberant punk-pop energy. The guitars have the crunch of the rockier moments on Future Me Hates Me (‘Great No-One’, ‘Uptown Girl’), while Stokes’ voice bends around a melody that never sits still. The album is again produced by guitarist and backing vocalist, Jonathan Pearce. He gives songs like this a crisp live sound.
Like their fellow indie-pop contemporaries Charly Bliss (who released the fantastic Young Enough last year), The Beths have made a second record that shares similar DNA with their debut, but musically sometimes takes a softer approach. Following the thrilling two-punch of ‘I’m Not Getting Excited’ and ‘Dying To Believe’, the guitars are more gentle and melodic on the emotive title track which follows. The face-melting harmonies of the debut (one of the album’s biggest selling points) are still there, but they’re more subtle. ‘Mars, God Of War’ starts with a 90s power-pop kick, but has the perfect balance of light and shade, with the shimmering guitars in the verse and an emotional middle eight.
The latest single, “Out of Sight”, is upbeat, but has a more restrained build-up with the summery, jangling guitars in the verse. Stokes sings, “I know, I’m kind of a bummer watching closely for some kind of clue that I mean anything at all to you.” This paints her as the same self-deprecating narrator that sang Future Me Hates Me’s glorious title track and ‘Happy Unhappy’. ‘Acrid’ features their trademark throwback fuzzy guitars and a simple chorus that has Stokes repeating, “it’s you that I want to run to”. The synths on the pillowy middle eight are a lovely touch and show that even in the lighter moments, the impact is just as strong.
The culmination of the gentler side to Jump Rope Gazers comes from the two ballads. ‘Do You Want Me Now’ finds Stokes revealing the breakdown of a relationship — “long distance is the wrong distance and there has never been a gulf that’s quite as great as the one we wished into existence”. The tranquil backing vocals are typically masterful and act as a blanket of comfort to Stokes’ heartbreak. On The Beths’ first acoustic ballad ‘You are a Beam of Light’ , it shows they still have strong songwriting when they strip things down (there’s no sign of their dizzying solos or their ridiculously good rhythm section). The vulnerability in Stokes’ voice is palpable. There’s an ache and a breathlessness as she sadly sings, “cos we live in darker times, open my eyes so I can see brighter, you are a beam of light, maybe that’s why your battery runs dry”. Her sincerity and the tenderness of the melody echoes the ballads on Paramore’s 2017 masterpiece, After Laughter.
Everything that made Future Me Hates Me special remains on The Beths’ wonderful second album. Jump Rose Gazers confirms the band have the humanity to be relatable, and they have a gift for creating songs that aim for the heart and stay in the head. A lesser band wouldn’t be this effective; being original isn’t what makes the band so endearing. It’s an expert take on this sound because the dynamics of their music are so well-devised that their stories of infatuation, heartbreak and anxiety already feel timeless. It’s not just a worthy follow-up to their classic debut, it’s also a sign that they’re quickly becoming the best group around.
Jump Rope Gazers is out on Carpark Records on July 10th.