The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field (Carpark)

The Beths released their irresistible second album, Jump Rope Gazers, two years ago, and it was ideal comfort listening during the early months of the pandemic. They avoided the pitfalls of following a fully-formed and astonishing debut, Future Me Hates Me, with something less immediate, but still possessing the same magic. Since then, they’ve impressively gained momentum (even with modest press coverage) and they’ve built a reputation as a phenomenal live group. Third albums can often be where artists are on the verge of bigger success – Japanese Breakfast handled this flawlessly with last year’s best album, Jubilee. Expert In A Dying Field finds the band subtly showing new ways to display their sublime songwriting and feels like an effortless step towards breakout status. 

On Future Me Hates Me, the songs were loaded with punchy hooks and knockout choruses that instantly lodged themselves in your head. Jump Rope Gazers reached similar levels, but over a longer period and with softer melodies, more restrained playing and a bigger sense of melancholy. Expert In A Dying Field strikes the balance between both

Despite starting with fuzzy guitars, the title track and recent single is one of their more subtle songs. Instead of a huge chorus announcing itself, the band strips back the instrumentation and leaves Elizabeth Stokes navigating through a breakup as she asks, “and how do you know, It’s over when you can’t let go”. Her sadness is absorbed by the soothing melody and reassuring backing vocals. It’s a testament to their songwriting that Stokes can effectively convey sobering issues like heartache and anxiety (familiar themes for the band) with simple playing. In the last minute, the song comes alive in a gripping climax, as her voice almost breaks from the emotion and the band throws in some guitar hero chords. It’s one of the best things they’ve done. 

Latest single, ‘Knees Deep’, centres around Stokes’ insecurities as she sings, “the shame, I wish I was brave enough to dive in, but I never have been and never will be”. It appears to be in the band’s DNA that they can keep creating this brand of addictive indie pop songs that all feel like essential additions to their already strong back catalogue. In the mood switching ‘A Passing Rain’, Stokes wearily states, “you’re a good actor must be a drag to know me when I’m down”. The doubt and self-depreciation in Stokes’ lyrics is a contrast to her (and the band’s) obvious talents and is delightfully endearing

The continuation of Jump Rope Gazer’s melodic side is evident on the striking  ‘Your Side’, where Stokes again sings open-heartedly as she promises, “don’t cry, I’m on the next flight, to be by your side”. Her sincerity is a perfect match for the prettiness of the summer-y guitars and their trademark stirring harmonies; it’s a beautiful companion to Jump Rope Gazers’s emotional title track. 

The Beths have a gift for infusing their music with 90s nostalgia. ‘When You Know You Know’ is the simplest pop song, with cooing backing vocals neatly equipped to highlight the sweetness of the lyrics – “like tit for tat, that is you for me, and it’s quite the cost but nothing comes for free and when you know you know it’s meant to be”. It has one of those familiar melodies in which the band excel, and you find your brain playing tricks on you as you search for which 90s coming of age TV show featured it as its theme tune. The delightful ‘I Want To Listen’ is sprinkled with jangling guitars and ripples of playful harmonies that, again, evoke a long lost indie pop hit that could have been a mix-tape staple in the mid 90s. 

Even though Expert In A Dying Field is often more reflective and stripped back, the buzzing energy and rougher edges of their debut do sometimes appear. First single, ‘Silence Is Golden’ is one of their hardest songs, with two whirlwind choruses. The band sounds like they’re spinning round and round whilst keeping the incredibly tight rhythm. As often happens with their music, it’s amazing what they cram into three minutes. ‘Head In the Clouds’ embodies the energetic power pop that was the pulse of Future Me Hates Me. ‘A Passing Rain’ features bursts of heavier guitars, and the snappy  ‘I Told You That I Was Afraid’ is made when Jonathan Pearce swoops in with one of his dazzling hair-raising guitar solos. 

Expert In A Dying Field ends with a stunning closer that gives the album a satisfying sense of cohesion. ‘2am’ starts as a contemplative ballad where the yearning melody is engulfed by Stokes’ sadness as she recalls, “there’s a song that never fails to make you cry, so we stared straight for the whole time”. As it builds, the clattering post-rock percussion and delicately placed keyboards induce the magical later works of Talk Talk. As it ends, Stokes’ vocals come back into focus as she’s left alone asking, “do you feel it, feel it like you did back then when it was 2am pounding the pavement?”. Her question goes unanswered and is a poignant end to their most personal and intimate album. 

It must have been tempting to double down or repeat the formula that made Future Me Hates Me such a glorious rush. Like Jump Rope Gazers, Expert In A Dying Field isn’t a big showy album where you barely get a chance to catch your breath – its brilliance unfolds the more time you invest. By taking a different approach, there is no hint of sacrificing any of their exceptional songwriting. Every moment feels intentionally structured: to show personality and to show how much joy the band gets from playing music together. The Beths are probably too modest to admit it themselves, but they’re an outstanding group that breathes life into a musical genre that often feels overcrowded. They’ve put themselves right at the top of the very-much-alive field with three startling albums in a row. 

Expert In A Dying Field looks like it could be their well-deserved breakout and win them a whole new audience. It might be an ambitious claim, but as Stokes sings, “when you know, you know..”

Expert In A Dying Field is out September 16th

The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field (Carpark)

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.