“I’m not getting excited,” Elizabeth Stokes vows on the opening track to the Beths’ new album, Jump Rope Gazers. “‘Cause the thrill isn’t mine to invite in.” She keeps her word throughout the record: “I know,” she later acknowledges. “I’m kind of a bummer.”
Stokes’ self-deprecating and vulnerable lyrics, backed by Jonathan Pearce’s delicious, hook-laden riffs, is what made the Beths’ debut Future Me Hates Me one of the best indie releases of 2018. For their follow-up, the New Zealand outfit stuck to the same formula, but the sound is cleaner and more refined than its predecessor — thanks to Pearce’s studio wizardry.
Many of the songs grapple with being separated from loved ones, whether on the road or in isolation. “Long distance is the wrong distance,” Stokes observes on the lovesick centerpiece “Do You Want Me Now.” On “Don’t Go Away,” she pleads to a lover over bubblegum harmonies. The title track is a shimmering power-pop ballad, complete with backing vocals à la Surf’s Up. “I’ve never been the dramatic type,” she admits. “But if I don’t see your face tonight/I, I guess I’ll be fine.”
There are moments where the band explores softer territory (hear the gorgeous, acoustic-driven “You Are a Beam of Light”) but they mostly sound like a group of friends playing their first rowdy house party post-coronavirus. “Tragic, the messages I send, my mind post-midnight/Are showing seen but no reply,” Stokes sings on “Acrid,” shortly before the you, you, you earworm of a chorus. “Dying to Believe” is a sheer delight, complete with crunching guitars and an automated transit speaker. “I’m sorry for the way that I can’t hold conversations,” Stokes sings. “It’s such a fragile thing to try support the weight of.”
For the album title, Stokes said that she envisioned a jump rope as the connection between two people — separated by distance. With Jump Rope Gazers, the Beths — Stokes, Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck — prove that despite a global pandemic, it’s still possible to have a good time. They might not be excited, but we sure are.