On “Knees Deep”, a song written late on for The Beths’ third album Expert In A Dying Field, vocalist and guitarist Liz Stokes wishes that she was “brave enough to dive in/but I never have been and never will be”. It’s hard to believe that Stokes would see herself as being cautious when The Beth’s music is often determinedly raucous (“Knees Deep” itself has a relatively flamboyant guitar solo courtesy of Jonathan Pearce, and “I told you that I was afraid” is musically confident and forthright in its fear).
There are other bold statements on the album. “Silence Is Golden” is a propulsive plea for silence, with squalling guitar evoking the anxiety caused by city noise – 6am construction, a jet plane engine, a screaming siren. Desperation to see God (who isn’t at work) drives the heavy guitar riffs and harmonies of “Head in the Clouds”. “Best Left” is determined in its vision of doom, with the declaration that “some things are best left to rot”.
Stokes and Pearce (guitar, keys) started playing music together when they were in high school; they met Benjamin Sinclair (bass) and Ivan Luketina-Johnston (drums for 2014 – 2018) at the University of Auckland. Tristan Deck (drums) joined the band in 2019 replacing Luketina-Johnston. They are a band with range; “I Want to Listen” is gentle indie in the style of Frente!, “I Want to Listen” is forlorn but catchy, and “Change in the Weather” seems as complex as a stormy meteorological chart. “2am” builds through experimentation into some late night cacophony.
Most of the album was recorded at Pearce’s studio in Auckland towards the end of 2021, until they were interrupted by a four-month national lockdown due to COVID-19. The mixing of the album was finished in hotel rooms and green rooms whilst on tour in the US, with additional vocals, guitars and synths tracked on the road. The mixing was completed at the end of the tour in three days at Future Classic studios in Los Angeles, California. The tone of the album is often agreeably chaotic, and it may be that these conditions assisted with the outcome.
All the songs on the album were written by Stokes, with “Change In The Weather” co-written by Pearce, and they contain some interesting and original ideas. The title track addresses a break-up in a novel way, asking “how does it feel to be an expert in a dying field? How do you know it’s over when you can’t let go?”. The witty lyrics are often compact and surprising. “When You Know You Know” suggests “if you won’t commit to the expedition/I could go alone on a solo mission/never seen a heart in a worse condition/pinning all my hopes to the wrong pincushion”; “A Passing Rain” asks, in existential dread, “how can you hold me when I’m dissolving?”.
We’re reliably informed that “insecurity and thoughtfulness, translated into universality and understanding, has been the guiding light of The Beths’ output since 2016”. This may be the case, but any insecurity is misplaced, as Expert In A Dying Field is an impressive and engaging record.
Note: Expert In A Dying Field is released in a number of vinyl variants (so far we’ve spotted carpark spring green, canary yellow, galaxy blue, hot pink), as well as on CD, cassette and by download.
Read the Beths’ Breakfast and Travel Updates
Label: Carpark Records
Release Date: 16 SEP 2022