“You are a beam of light / maybe that’s why your battery runs dry,” Elizabeth Stokes sings on the penultimate track of Jump Rope Gazers, the highly anticipated sophomore album from New Zealand group, The Beths. “You Are A Beam of Light” is the sole acoustic song on the album, and what a song it is. In the hands of another pop-punk songwriter, the track could come across as corny; or worse, convey zero emotion in a story that should tug at your heartstrings. Stokes, though, is a songwriter who transforms the mundanity and nostalgia of life into something universal and wholly captivating, while highlighting her introspective mind.
The Beths’ debut album, Future Me Hates Me was a surprise hit. Well, it was a surprise to the band. To everyone listening, it was clear that the four-piece had created something extraordinary. According to Chris Taylor at The Line of Best Fit, “Future Me Hates Me was one of the most self-assured and exciting debuts in recent years.” It’s true: with their debut, The Beths had me enjoying pop-punk for the first time since my teens. The success of the album propelled the Kiwis to newfound heights, spending 2019 touring with Pixies, subsequent to a stint in Europe and the UK with their personal heroes, Death Cab for Cutie (The Postal Service’s Give Up is an album Stokes knows front to back).
The first single, “Dying to Believe,” is power pop at its finest. The band fires on all cylinders, raising ferociously bubbly energy right from the outset. Jonathan Pearce and Stokes host succinct, breezy guitars, with Stokes’ consistently charming vocal cutting through. “I’m sorry for the way that I can’t hold conversations / they’re such a fragile thing to try support the weight of,” she sings, pleading to take that heaviness from her shoulders. In fact, beneath the glossy sheen, much of Jump Rope Gazers works through emotions that are hard to bear, burdened and burnt out.
On the anthemic closer, “Just Shy of Sure,” Stokes is utterly commanding while her headaches and uncertainty overtakes her. “If I keep very still / I might be able to make this work until the end of the weekend,” before she concedes, “weak, but I’ll pretend that you still want me / I’m the one you adore, but I’m just shy of sure.” However, The Beths still believe in unconditional love. The tender, shoegaze inspired “Out of Sight,” promises unquestioning support, that if your world collapses, “I’ll be down in the rubble / I’ll build you another / I’ll wait out the summer.”
“Tragic, the messages I send my mind post-midnight / are showing seen but no reply,” she croons on “Acrid,” another tear-jerking album highlight. Much of the writing for Jump Rope Gazers was completed on tour, a rough period of intense loneliness. “I found myself saying the words, ‘wish you were here, wish I was there,’ over and over again,” Stokes shared in a press release. The unbearable nature of being too far away from family and friends is most poignant on “Do You Want Me Now.” After all, the first words are “long-distance is the wrong distance / there has never been a gulf that’s quite as great as the one we wished into existence.” As Stokes re-lives the cyclical conversations through a phone or computer screen, her words help make sense of the unprecedented times we’ve been living through for months.
Despite the loneliness and self-doubt – lively opener “I’m Not Getting Excited” examines the untenable uneasiness of not meeting fan expectations – The Beths managed to dish out one of the most gorgeous love songs I’ve heard all year. Wistful, oh-so-perfect harmonies set the scene on the title track’s chorus: “I think I love you / and I think that I loved you the whole time,” Stokes sings, her voice soaring above sparkling guitars. “How could this happen? / We were jump rope gazers in the middle of the night.” She’s ready to give it a red-hot go, no longer consumed by fear of the sting of the fall.
Like Future Me Hates Me, there’s something undeniable about Jump Rope Gazers. It’s a multitude of components: Benjamin Sinclair (bass) and drummer Tristan Deck’s spot-on rhythm section; Stokes’ earnest, yearning storytelling, and her beautiful, soothing voice; flawless harmonies; and their bright, snappy pop-rock hooks. Through these ten stories, The Beths make something simple abundantly clear: We must share our love for each other now, more than ever. No more hiding or running away.