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A fuzzed-out guitar teems with anticipation. It staggers before finding a confident stride as Elizabeth Stokes sings of giving up expectations. This juxtaposition between conviction and uncertainty defines The Beths’ sophomore effort, Jump Rope Gazers. Vibrant hooks like this one on their album opener, “I’m Not Getting Excited,” are what originally allured fans to the New Zealand indie rockers’ 2018 debut, Future Me Hates Me. Since then, The Beths have refined songs about anxiety and, through Jump Rope Gazers, speak to apprehension with the most confidence they’ve had yet.
The road to Jump Rope Gazers began with the success The Beths found in their debut record, which awarded them the opportunity to travel far from home. Subsequently, the band spent a year-and-a-half on the road, finishing off their world tour by sharing stages with the likes of Death Cab For Cutie and the Pixies. But despite the excitement, the rootlessness of life on the road also created a desire for stability.
The Beths returned home to discover more than themselves had changed — friends had moved to different countries and Stokes struggled to maintain emotional closeness with now long-distance friendships. Reflecting on these new challenges, Jump Rope Gazers wallows in nostalgia and grapples with self-doubt while leaning on the catharsis and comfort of shared experiences.
The record also makes use of all four members’ academic backgrounds in music — they originally crossed paths studying jazz at the University of Auckland — and they use their knowledge of theory to experiment more with tempos and time signatures, perhaps best heard on “Mars, The God Of War.” The drums thunder with a burst of energy before subsiding as Stokes lyrically details suppressed anger toward another. While they aren’t writing jazz compositions, they are using their knowledge and practice of music to pen tightly-packed power-pop.
But just as interesting as the musical construction of Jump Rope Gazers is how Stokes unpacks the intricacies of anxiety in a variety of ways, and songs like the album’s title-track touch on the subject more fluidly. Channeling contemporary songwriters like Soccer Mommy through Stokes’ scaling lilt, the cool-toned guitars leave a sense of sweeping sadness and nagging nostalgia. Stokes continues to wrestle with being direct, nearly disclosing her affection before second-guessing herself. “I’ve never been the dramatic type / But if I don’t see your face tonight / I… I guess I’ll be fine,” she sings.
Stokes has sung about battling self-doubt since the band’s inception but through Jump Rope Gazers, she has found new ways to cope with imposter syndrome. On “I’m Not Getting Excited,” lively chords contrast against Stokes’ lyrics, which speak to facing uncertainty with stoicism. But beneath the surface, Stokes knows this resignation really serves as a mask for insecurities. Piercing guitars offer a sonic metaphor for an all-encompassing sense of foreboding as Stokes sings of keeping her “grip on joy loose.” The guitar breaks down to a scaling solo during the bridge, evoking a bubble of anxiety as if it’s rising from the pit of the singer’s stomach.
Stokes is often guarded on Jump Rope Gazers but finds healing through leaning on loved ones for support. Tracks like “Don’t Go Away” overtly speak to the difficulties of losing relationships to distance. In between the effervescent power chords, Stokes reminisces on the times she took for granted before her best friend moved far from home while also recognizing the need for growth beyond a small town.
Through Jump Rope Gazers, The Beths learn age doesn’t promise self-assurance. Grappling with change and self-doubt can be daunting, but The Beths’ sophomore album finds solace through leaning on friendships while discovering that preparing for the worst can eclipse the joy in the present moment. Jump Rope Gazers recognizes that chasing dreams requires sacrifices but it’s ultimately worth the effort.
Jump Rope Gazers is out now via Carpark. Get it here.