The Beths Slay Sophomore Effort, “Jump Rope Gazers’

The Beths | Jump Rope Gazers | (Carpark Records)
4.5 out of five stars

Some bands succumb to the sophomore slump. Others slay it. The Beths stand firmly in the latter category with Jump Rope Gazers. After enjoying out-of-nowhere buzz with its 2018 debut Future Me Hates Me, the New Zealand quartet has come back even stronger by varying its approach to engaging effect.

On the debut, the lure was the way that lead singer and songwriter Elizabeth Stokes dropped melodic surprises and lyrical ambivalence into the full-throttle rush of the instrumentalists. This time around, there are far more open spaces within the production of guitarist Jonathan Pearce, as well as times when the tempo slows to give Stokes’ ruminations more room to breathe.

There are still some head-rush-inducing sprints here, like leadoff ripper “I’m Not Getting Excited.” But the rhythm section of bassist Benjamin Sinclair and new drummer Tristan Deck also pulls convincing, Cars-y new wave moves on “Don’t Go Away” and “Dying To Believe.” Pearce coaxes a lusher sonic blend on aching mid-tempo songs like the title track and “Do You Want Me Now,” as Beach Boys-style backing vocals swirl around Stokes’ vulnerable leads.

Stokes derives supple emotion from that limbo area in a relationship where there is still communication between the parties, but it’s stilted and far from reassuring. “Long distance is the wrong distance,” she complains in “Do You Want Me Now,” but you get the feeling that things would still be rocky between the two in close quarters. Many of the songs hinge on whether keeping things afloat is worth the effort, and the inability to commit either way is its own kind of agony; “I’m just shy of sure,” Stokes sings on the closing track.On “You Are A Beam Of Light,” The Beths caress an acoustic folk song, further broadening their musical horizons. Maybe that’s a hint of what’s to come in their future. In the here and now, with Jump Rope Gazers, they are bounding past their contemporaries.

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