Expert in a Dying Field

The Beths

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Expert in a Dying Field Review

by Marcy Donelson

After quickly building a fan base in New Zealand and Australia with their live shows, Auckland's the Beths burst onto the broader indie scene with an infectious, hook-crammed debut, 2018's Future Me Hates Me. As suggested by the album's title, Elizabeth Stokes' self-depreciating lyrics were part of its charm, and the follow-up, 2020's Jump Rope Gazers, reflected an even more hapless outlook as it explored strained relationships caused by the band's new life on the road. Without skipping a hook, third album Expert in a Dying Field delves still deeper into melancholy, with lyrics navigating a breakup as well as pandemic life. Churning fuzz and ringing lead guitar begin a downcast but nonetheless driving opening title track that asks, "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 song's chorus picks up multi-tracking, vocal countermelodies, group harmonies, and crashing cymbals by its final incarnation. It could be said that much of the album continues in kind, with memorable melody after memorable guitar hook after air-drum-compelling fill on a series of songs that border on midtempo, but the way it plays out is something much more off-balance. The Beths lean on the accelerator three tracks in, on the polyrhythmic "Silence Is Golden," for instance, a song whose punky, racing rhythms and guitar histrionics are matched by a rambling, lilting vocal that only stops to breathe before the chorus's repeated "Silence is golden." Nearing the halfway point of the track list, the two-minute "I Want to Listen" is a gentler, McCartney-esque ditty with more complex chords and shifting harmonic progressions than are typical for the onetime jazz majors. Later, the chanting "Best Left" ("Some things are best left to rot"), while still wistful in tone, plays to the arena crowds. The group have said that Expert in a Dying Field was made with live performance in mind, and on that point, it delivers, right up until the plaintive closing ballad, "2 a.m.," which finds Stokes left alone in a flash of headlights ("There's a song that never fails to make you cry"). The album also delivers on vulnerable, rock-solid songs, a juxtaposition the Beths continue to master.

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