The Beths are back and as hooky as ever. 2018’s Future Me Hates Me was indie-infused pop-punk done right – a distillation of ‘90s and early ‘00s touchstones played by ultra-talented jazz majors from New Zealand’s University of Auckland. Sophomore album Jump Rope Gazers builds on that record’s success while varying its template in small, successful ways that stick.
Songwriter, guitarist, and frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes’ material may be introspective and doubt-filled in nature on Jump Rope Gazers, but it never wallows in melancholy. Insular lyrical content is juxtaposed with sugary hooks and fast tempos on opener “I’m Not Getting Excited” and first single “Dying to Believe”, which offer up the band’s trademark caffeinated punk songs; “Don’t Go Away” and “Mars, the God of War” hint at Weezer, new wave, and The Strokes within that model.
Present throughout, however, are the band’s great differentiators – Stokes’ underlying sweetness as she misses her friends, her palpable sincerity when she tries to avoid confrontation with a carefully crafted, 3AM email, and playing and singing talent from all four members (guitarist and producer/mixer/engineer Jonathan Pearce, bass player Benjamin Sinclair, drummer Tristan Deck) that, right or wrong, isn’t often associated the musical genres the band explores.
Where Jump Rope Gazers truly shines is when the album leans into its softer side – the moments the pace slows and the songs’ emotions can unfurl at their own pace. “Acrid” acts as a bridge, with its mix of uptempo heaviness and round edges, but the most memorable moments are even softer: “Jump Rope Gazers” is a lovely, jangly ballad full of time-twisted memories and soft-focus textures that add emotional heft. “Do You Want Me Now” and “Out of Sight” share a nostalgic, bygone summer days feel, with the latter’s third-wave emo riffs a welcome change of pace.
The last two songs point a potentially exciting way forward. “You Are a Beam of Light” is The Beths’ first acoustic track; a lovely song about “appear[ing] on my friends’ doorsteps to tell them things were going to be OK. That sometimes things are hard, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. To the best people,” explains Stokes. As a one-two punch with closing “Just Shy of Sure” – reminiscent of a slightly punkier Sundays track – it feels like a confident refinement of the newer territory explored before.
The Beths may think of themselves as “a guitar band [that] make[s] guitar music,” and they aren’t wrong. But Jump Rope Gazers is far from reductive. Instead, the band reaffirms their standout qualities – hooks that linger, cut-above musicianship, and relatable, powerful in its simplicity emoting – and tweaks their recipe to strong effect and immanently listenable results.
Words by Andrew Ledford