The Beths | Expert in a Dying Field | Carpark Records

Review: The Beths – Expert in a Dying Field

National Music Reviews

The Beths
Expert In A Dying Field

Carpark Records
Street: 09.16
The Beths = Courtney Barnett + Kimya Dawson

The best albums place you directly into the songwriter’s shoes and invite you to participate in their story. The Beths lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, Elizabeth Stokes, shares her sonic autobiography through Expert In A Dying Field. The album is upbeat, consistent and a lot of fun, maintaining the band’s classic punk and indie rock elements. It has this childlike ambiance that resembles artists like Kimya Dawson, most prominently in the production of “I Want To Listen” and with the down-to-earth lyrics of “Knees Deep,” while remaining true to The Beths’ discography and roots in indie rock. 

Alongside Stokes, Auckland, New Zealand’s The Beths features Jonathan Pearce on guitar, Benjamin Sinclair on bass and Tristan Deck on the drums. Expert In A Dying Field is a tender, 12-chapter piece that immediately dives into the story of a romance, portraying the post-breakup longing in a youthful and natural way. The instrumentation simply asks you to have a good time while Stokes’ lyricism works its way into your heart. She refrains from laying all her cards on the table in her lyricism, which isn’t as straightforward as other love and heartbreak-inspired collections.

A gut-wrenching anecdote frames the opening track, “Expert In A Dying Field.” Stokes’ words cut deep and anchor us to her story: “How does it feel to be an expert in a dying field / How do you know it’s over when you can’t let go / Love is learned over time until you’re an expert in a dying field.” With playful harmonies and a precise arrangement, the track gradually amps itself up. The vocals and instruments are both crisp, steady and balanced, demonstrating the attention to detail of this album. 

“Knees Deep” stands out for its stellar guitar riff about three-quarters into the song; the track’s lighthearted lyrics are complemented by the heavy, technical fingerwork of the solo. In spite of its polarity, its two tones are a match made in heaven. “Silence is Golden”—Expert In A Dying Field’s lead single—is one you long to hear live. Its grinding guitar, fast tempo and disorienting drumbeat give you a bit of whiplash in the best way possible. Stokes’ bewitching, acapella voice concludes the song after an explosive performance.

The Beths slow it down with the track “Your Side”—this one’s a tear-jerker. It has a twinkling chord progression and emotive drumbeat, and once again Stokes’ crystal voice stars. This is an earnest love ballad that officially sets the scene for the heartbreaking backdrop—the incentive behind a surreal narrative. Stokes sings of longing to be by the side of someone who couldn’t be further away.“I want to see you knocking at the door / I want to leave you out there / Waiting in the downpour / Singing that you’re sorry / Dripping on the hall floor.” 

Expert In A Dying Field does not stray far away from the band’s core sound. While each song is its own showpiece, they don’t sound all too different from each other—far from a bad thing. The band knows its sound and they stick to it, and because of this, the 12 tracks can bleed together. Regardless, Stokes tells her story from start to finish. The poppier “When You Know You Know” and the preceding track, “Change In The Weather,” make their presence known with their experimental melodies and tempos. In “When You Know You Know,” Stokes recites her lyrics while alternating between speeds and pitches. The track’s vacillating vocal buildup to the chorus is unlike anything I’ve heard before. I immediately started the track over to listen more attentively. I can’t help but rock my head up and down to its tangling crescendos and rolling drumbeat.

Expert In A Dying Field is something you’ll want to dive into over and over again, whether that’s by playing it in the background or if it’s your lifeline in navigating the horror of a breakup. Its childlike elements play within a world of adulthood, responsibility and seasonal depression, but allow you to navigate these things in an adolescent manner. The final track of side A, “2am,” reaffirmed a feeling I had in my first listen: It felt like each track resembled a different time of day. Its preceding track, “I Told You That I Was Afraid,” conveys the feeling of midnight, while “2am” illustrates the solitude and stillness of its title. In the track, Stokes’ high, feathery pitch transitions into a dramatic instrumental break and closes with a long, quiet vibration that wishes us a goodnight. –Birdy Francis

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