The Beths Expert In A Dying Field
The Beths third and latest full length release, Expert In A Dying Field, which the band self describes as “an incandescent collision of power-pop and skuzz,” is an ambitious guitar driven record that just might be the band’s finest work thus far. In and of itself, this is quite a statement considering the quality of both their debut LP, 2018’s Future Me Hates Me as well as their sophomore effort Jump Rope Gazers from 2020. Both of those releases found themselves firmly planted on countless year end lists and I’m fairly confident that Expert will share similar such accolades.
In this age of streaming, it has become somewhat of a trend where artists will pre-release several individual songs months in advance of a full length’s release. (Of course artists and record labels have been doing this since forever via the 45rpm single.) The trend now, however, is that those pre-releases are almost invariably the best two or three songs culled from the eventual album. So inevitably upon the full release, a feeling of disappointment sets in when one discovers that the other songs don’t live up to the initial hype of the early singles. With Expert In A Dying Field, The Beths further exacerbated this trend by sequencing their first three pre-released singles as the first three tracks on the LP. My initial thoughts upon seeing this was “uh oh.”
But my worries proved to be totally unfounded with Expert and the entire album delivers from start to finish. The title track (also the first single released earlier this year) is a bright poppy broken relationship love song smack dab in The Beths’ wheelhouse. It offers up what we’ve come to know and love from the band which of course is none other than lite, breezy, sunshine ridden musical bliss paired with anxiety laden lyrics, singer Elizabeth Stokes 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 next track on the album is the third and most recent single, “Knees Deep,” which again, displays the band’s tried and true formula of feel good power pop. The song itself I find quite ironic in that it’s about the song’s protagonist being too scared to take the proverbial leap, in this case the metaphoric dive into the water. (The song came paired with a music video which saw the band really take a leap and featured all four members bungee jumping.)
The irony however lies in the fact that this risky leap is exactly what The Beths have done. They’ve spent the better part of 2022 touring throughout North America and Europe, not only avoiding the large corporate mega festivals but also touring as headliners rather than being out there as a support act to a more widely known, more popular act which might boost their fan base. They’ve done all this and accomplished nothing but success in the process.
Most of Expert was recorded at guitarist Jonathan Pearce’s studio on Karangahape Road in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (Auckland, New Zealand) towards the end of 2021, with the band saying the the songs collected are autobiographical, but “they’re also character sketches of relationships—platonic, familial, romantic—and more importantly, their aftermaths. The shapes and ghosts left in absences. The question that hangs in the air: what do you do with how intimately versed you’ve become in a person, once they’re gone from your life?”
The Beths at Asbury Lanes (photo by Ray Rusinak. See full coverage)
The band has also said that when recording Expert, they made a very cognizant decision to make an album which was meant to be heard live for “both the listeners and themselves.” And that they “wanted it to be fun—to hear, to play—in spite of the prickling anxiety throughout the lyrics, the fear of change and struggle to cope.” And listening to it, I can’t help but think the band was ready, they knew that the next time around things were going to be bigger for them. And no doubt with their upcoming tour in early 2023, they will be playing larger venues (once again) than they did this last time around. And to my ears Expert fits that very bill perfectly. The sixth song, “Head In The Clouds,” sounds anthemic and ready for a large stage with Pearce’s opening crunchy distorted guitar riff followed by Tristen Deck’s bouncy kick drum. Then about midway through we get Benjamin Sinclair with a classic hard driving pop punk bass line and of course all of this is swirling around while Stokes masterfully sings lines like “Yeah your head’s in the clouds but your soul’s in the dirt”.
We get more of this big pop punk sound in “I Told You I Was Afraid,” the penultimate track of the album. But this isn’t the only direction on which Stokes and The Beths take us on throughout the album. You can hear all kinds of influences popping up throughout the album. There’s some Nirvana (“A Passing Rain”), maybe some Taylor Swift (“Changing Weather”), and even a little Phoebe Bridgers (“2AM”). And in each and every case it’s not like you feel like The Beths are ripping any of these artists off. On the contrary, Stokes manages to use nuance and feel from each, and intone it into her own. So even when you hear a bit of Susanna Hoffs in a song like “When You Know You Know,” it doesn’t actually sound like Stokes trying to sound like Hoffs, but instead it’s The Beths taking that Bangles sound and bending and shaping it so that it very much becomes The Beths sound.
Expert In A Dying Field was recorded during the pandemic and fortunately New Zealand had a very strong grasp on things early on so the band was able to actually record together for the most part. Though as all things go with an unpredictable pandemic, eventually, things shifted and additional recording needed to be done separately, the band saying that they traded notes remotely for months and worked on arrangements alone. Additional finishing touches and mixing were then done while the band was here in the States touring and the recording process “culminated in a chaotic three-day studio mad-dash in Los Angeles. There, Expert finally became the record they were hearing in their heads.”
Ultimately, the finished product shows an album by a band that, while still growing with one another, and living in the midst of/adapting to very uncertain times, is still very comfortable with each other. They clearly know what they want and know how they want it to sound; they’ve managed to capture it perfectly on this newest offering.
Expert In A Dying Field will be released on 9/16 via Carpark Records. Their tour in support of it will hit New York in early March, 2023.