The Beths are a blast of fresh air. No mopey navel gazing, here. Lead singer Elizabeth Stokes looks you straight in the eye and says, yeah, listen up, life can be sad. Now let my band melt your ears with this guitar solo and make you feel better. (I would have liked to be in the meeting when this band chose its name. “I’m Beth. Now you’re all named Beth.” Power move.)
This is the New Zealanders’ third album. Their 2014 debut, the wonderfully titled Future Me Hates Me, was one rousing tune after another, one of the more exciting first albums I’ve heard in recent times. They slowed things down in their second album and it never really took for me. I’m not alone in this opinion among fans, but I need to go back and give that album another chance.
The Beths are fantastic musicians. Let’s start with that. This is another jazz trained band (see, e.g., Pom Poko). I include singing in musicianship. The harmonies are and have always been impeccable. And Jonathan Pearce is a fierce guitarist. When they are riding high, it’s the Go-Go’s meets Dinosaur Jr., Ms. Stokes’s clear Kiwi accented voice surfing on a wave of whitewater chords.
For my very small handful of friends and family who read my reviews, you know I’m not one to break down songs for you. So, let’s talk about New Zealand for a moment. The government, the New Zealand Arts Commission, gave this band money to tour. What a wonderful thing that is. Imagine if the U.S. government gave money so Mannequin Pussy could play music in Sri Lanka instead of using it for drones to kill Afghan children. The Swiss government took over the country’s entire football program from the youth level up. And now they are pretty good. The Swiss. Football. Tell me socialism doesn’t work.
And talk about carrying on a music tradition for that island. The Clean, The Staightjacket Fits, Neil Finn (Crowded House remains wildly underrated.) Just scratching the surface. NZ even has a groovy woman Prime Minister. (My last president was a greasy Nazi who inexplicably loves Elton John; it is an unrequited love.)
This band has taken the baton.
The title song is lovely. I hurt my neck tossing my head to ‘A Passing Rain’. ‘Silence Is Golden’ is loud and beautiful. The whole album is worth your listen. And if you haven’t heard their debut, you owe it to yourself. Go listen to it.
A final note on The Beths. They are fantastic live. Those vocals and guitars are not faked. They are also a band that hangs in the audience with a beer to watch their supporting acts and then moseys up to the stage, straps it on, and shreds. What’s not to like? God Save The Beths.
Words by Rick Larson