Simply the Beths: Why this new Auckland band is a Silver Scroll contender

by James Belfield / 30 August, 2018
The Beths: Ivan Luketina-Johnston, Benjamin Sinclair, Elizabeth Stokes, Jonathan Pearce.

The Beths: Ivan Luketina-Johnston, Benjamin Sinclair, Elizabeth Stokes, Jonathan Pearce.

RelatedArticlesModule - The Beths Future Me Hates Me

The title track of The Beths' debut album Future Me Hates Me is an APRA Silver Scroll Award finalist. It’s but one great track on a cracking power-pop album.

Just occasionally, the crafted informality of Kiwi artistic humour manages to strike a nerve overseas.

It earned Flight of the Conchords a cult following and put Taika Waititi on a 10-year trajectory from directing Eagle vs Shark (budget: $1.8 million) to Thor: Ragnarok (budget: $270 million).

And for the Beths, an indie four-piece out of Auckland, the same adept lightness of touch has seen them make waves on their first European and US tours, and justified Rolling Stone naming their track Happy Unhappy the Northern Hemisphere’s “song of the summer”.

Six weeks on from their Los Angeles show, after which praise for their super-catchy brand of guitar pop-rock was plastered all over US music websites, they’ve released their debut album Future Me Hates Me. It proves beyond doubt that they are far more than a one-summery-hit wonder.

The band members met while studying jazz at the University of Auckland, and although guitarist Jonathan Pearce says jazz provided a “very clear idea of what we didn’t want to do”, lead singer Elizabeth Stokes admits that it gave them a clear way to communicate the type of music they wanted to create.

“Part of it is that we’re all on second instruments,” she says. “I studied trumpet but play guitar, Jonathan studied piano, and our bassist Ben [Sinclair] studied saxophone. I think that when you’re writing with something you’re not fluent in, it feels more physical and intuitive. I wasn’t writing with my brain but with my hands and that gave it more of a punk ethos, which I like – and that’s coming from exactly the other end of the spectrum to the musical education that we have.”

The chemistry of two high-tempo distorted guitars; honey-sweet melodies; frenetic, punkish drumming and Stokes’ honest, upfront vocals makes for 10 hook-and-harmony-filled tracks, almost all of which could demand radio play.

Uptown Girl opens unashamedly with a bouncing rhythm and a couple of lines of “oh-oh-oh-oh-ooohs” before breaking into a pogo-worthy singalong chorus of “I will go out tonight, I’m going to drink the whole town dry.” The title track, which has been shortlisted for the 2018 APRA Silver Scroll Award, has a groovy Britpop Garbage-esque swagger; Whatever (the sole survivor from 2016’s Warm Blood EP) is vintage heartbreak pop set against a grungy millennial refrain of indifference, and the glorious Happy Unhappy revels in the kind of sun-drenched teenage lovesickness no one should truly grow out of.

But it’s the crafted consistency – that constant search to put into music exactly the sort of honest, Kiwi humour that is so difficult to explain  yet so easy to spot – that makes Future Me Hates Me an instant classic and the videos to Happy Unhappy and Whatever so recognisably Kiwi.

“Definitely what’s important to our group is that sense of humour, and we have a really good idea of what it means to us because we are such good and old friends,” Pearce says.

The other Silver Scroll nominees are Marlon Williams (Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore); Chelsea Jade (Laugh If Off); Troy Kingi (Aztecknowledgey), Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Hunnybee). The awards will be presented at Spark Arena on October 4.

The Beths play The Others Way festival on Auckland’s Karangahape Rd on August 31.

FUTURE ME HATES ME, The Beths (Carpark Records)

★★★★1/2

This article was first published in the September 1, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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