The Beths’ vocalist, guitarist, key songwriter and namesake, Elizabeth Stokes spent her band’s first two albums treating us to a series of jerky, fuzzy riffs and energetic beats as the backing track for her seamlessly relatable inner monologue in all of its awkward, tumultuous glory. Future Me Hates Me and Jump Rope Gazers were as riddled with tales of self-doubt and millennial nihilism as any epoch-making indie-punk record, and for their next move, The Beths have decided to double down on what so far appears to be a winning approach.
Their third release via Carpark Records is a fully fledged breakup album, though it focuses on connections of all kinds, platonic and familial as well as romantic. Have you ever gotten to know somebody so deeply, so intimately, and so entirely, that even after your relationship dissolves and you’ve turned back into strangers, your knowledge of their whole being just refuses to budge from your brain? Then you, as well, have become an Expert in a Dying Field.
The opening song and title track eases listeners into the narrative in a manner so potent it feels almost cinematic. The Beths’ guitar tone is a bursting, earnest roar of distortion that evokes the kind of untamed authenticity that’s comprised the soul of all the best rock ‘n’ roll ever since Willie Kizart’s amplifier got accidentally battered in 1951 and fans thought the sound might catch on. It acts as a fiery emotional ballast against Stokes’ matter-of-fact vocal delivery, the two aspects of the band’s sonic architecture coming together to create music that is smart and articulate whilst brimming with cavalier passion. Throw in some of that intimate, resonant lyricism (“I can close the door on us / But the room still exists / And I know you’re in it”), and you’ve got a sound that feels custom-built to simultaneously convey both the frustrated recklessness and stagnant stillness that characterises the worst kinds of relationship breakdowns. Songs like “Silence Is Golden” and “I Told You That I Was Afraid” use this setup to full effect; Stokes’ dry, almost soothing singing style complements the band’s raging, grungy instrumentation to evoke a huge range of emotions from soft vulnerability to an explosive, frantic mania.
But as powerful as the peaks of this album are, there are parts of Expert where the energy noticeably lags. There are certainly no bad songs here, but certain moments around the album’s middle section just sort of wash over you—the odd catchy riff or singalong chorus aside—without leaving much of an impact. The result is a considerable stretch of album that, while perfectly pleasant, just doesn’t feel like it’s adding much.
The best songs, though, are saved till last. The final push starts with track nine, “When You Know You Know.” It’s a gorgeously crafted pop masterpiece, a mature blend of thoughtful lyrics with playful “woah-ohs!” and an irresistibly bouncy feel-good chorus. “Passing Rain” features a tragically gorgeous hook (“I cave like I was built to break”) alongside that classic “we’re doing a sad song now” pop punk chord progression (give it a listen, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about), delivered with a ferocity that’s sure to whisk people to the moshpit during live performances with magnetic force. And the final track, “2am,” is an angelic, transcendent spark of musical beauty all its own.
Given the gripping emotional intensity and compelling musicianship that comprises the highest points on this album, I really wish I could say that I loved it. But I’ll have to settle for really, really liking it instead. Which, given its heavy focus on relationships and breakups, feels strangely apt. No hard feelings. I hope we can still be friends.