Album Review: The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers

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There aren’t many bands who had a better 2018 than The Beths. The Auckland indie-pop ensemble, headed up by Elizabeth Stokes, released their debut LP Future Me Hates Me to uproarious fanfare, breaking out of their tight-knit scene and onto the world stage. At present, they’re one of the very few live acts who haven’t had to cancel tour dates, thanks to New Zealand’s aggressive response to COVID-19. Having such a breakout moment, there’s even more pressure on their follow up. Their sophomore effort, Jump Rope Gazers, out now on Carpark Records, sees them churning out even more confectionary power pop, decidedly leaning into the sound that helped them make their mark.

While the discourse around their debut made frequent note of Stokes’ having named the band after herself, Jump Rope Gazers helps codify the group as a team effort, rather than the work of a prodigious bandleader. Stokes is a gifted musician, and her rich, copacetic vocal tone helps set the group apart. However, Gazers finds the rest of The Beths’ voices being elevated. They don’t take the spotlight or lead vocals, but the group harmonies and shout-along passages help boost Stokes. Her bandmates, Benjamin Sinclair, Tristin Deck, and Jonathan Pearce are classically trained and masters of their chosen instruments. Perhaps the greatest strength is how tight their musicianship remains. Moments like the monumental “I’m Not Getting Excited” let that polished talent shine as it builds fizzy, tangible tension like a baking soda volcano—and immediately following this is the first single, the effervescent high-kick “Dying to Believe.” A gem of a song, its rising and falling melody evoke a specific gaiety, and conjure images of jumping on a trampoline in youth.

Despite having such strong opening numbers, the transition into track three is punishing. The title track is closer to balladry than power pop and comes far too early in the sequencing. While it’s well arranged with lush guitar parts, its melody is cloying. With all momentum effectively killed, the next few tracks are a mixed bag: some lackluster and mid-tempo, some energetic bursts of life. These more fun moments like “Acrid” or “Don’t Go Away” try their hardest, but are not enough to get the record back on course.

Perhaps the most interesting non-single present comes towards the record’s end. “Mars, the God of War,” finds Stokes wrapping metaphor inside metaphor as she discusses the human tendency towards violence with light commentary on our age of social media discourse. Besides having some of the strongest writing on the record, it boasts an enthralling, creative melody and soaring guitars.

One hopes that, especially for bands as talented and established as The Beths, each record an artist releases pushes the sound in a new direction just a little. While there are several great songs on Gazers, the biggest foible is that there is not a single track that wouldn’t feel at home on their debut. Jump Rope Gazers isn’t a sophomore slump; The Beths have more than proven their talents and staying power. This is, however, exactly why one must expect more of them. For a band with such potential, a release with this much filler and such baffling sequencing decisions is ultimately just… frustrating.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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