Expert In A Dying Field

The Beths

Carpark Records, 2022

REVIEW BY: Scott Hill


Everyone’s got that era of music which probably doesn’t exist the way they remember it, but they get wistful about it anyway. Many a throwback radio station has curated entire libraries off the idea that, say, Motown was nothing but hits, or that the nebulously-defined “Classic Rock” rose from the primordial oceans fully-formed, with no fumbling towards ecstasy in sight. One of the wryest jokes in Double Fine Studio’s video game ode to heavy metal, Brütal Legend, involves the Jack Black-voiced main character wincing at the rap/nu-metal/boy band monstrosity he’s currently being a roadie for and then yearning to go back to the ’70s; you know, back when music good, man… only to then realize the inevitable expiration date of his nostalgia and amend the wish to “early ’70s.”

Everybody does it toward music they like, whether it’s reminiscing on a bygone genre that conclusively exists, or waxing poetic about an esoteric commonality running throughout the music of their youth, a commonality that feels missing in “whatever those kids are listening to these days.” It’s a means for carving notches on the belt of time not via something so trivial as facts, but impressions.

One of my favorite, impressionistic, “is that even a genre?” paradigms is a period I imagine existing generally between, eh, 1994 and 2007, with early outliers popping up as early as ’89, and stragglers persisting until perhaps 2013. It was a time when primitive radio gods stood outside of phone booths with money in their hand, or collective souls saw that they all had a long way to run. It’s a sound where a texture of blended rhythms was as paramount to the composition as wrapping up a straightforward hook with the bow of an easy-going, relaxed melody. Movie soundtracks seemed to love that indefinable sound during this time period I’ve described: whether it was the inoffensive jangle of Gin Blossoms on Empire Records, or the clear-eyed reflections of The Replacements on Can’t Hardly Wait, compilations and radio stations alike were rife with this ephemeral sub-genre I’m just going to go ahead and call “Alt. Mellow Sock-Gawping”: not as sonically dense as shoe-gazing, nor as enthusiastically banal as pop, nor yet as spare as folk, but some mild coffee blend of the three.

In any case, it’s important to note that This Sound I’m Trying To Convey is definitely a comfort blanket for me, one I used to find most reposeful, even as I took its then-ubiquity for granted, and now feel amiss at its current rareness. Is it possible that its scarcity has less to do with the music industry not pushing it and more to do with how modern, insular listening practices causes certain ships to sail by each other in the night? Possibly. Yet the point remains, it always felt like a dependable vanilla in my ice cream audio sundae, one which lately for me has felt distressingly in short supply.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So imagine my delight when I fired up The Beths’ latest album, Experts In A Dying Field and found This Very Sound blended into every frappe-roasted note. It’s as if they, themselves, are specialists from this category I thought had declined completely. Just like that, I was 17 again, daydreaming of when I would grow up as gracefully as the cast of Dawson's Creek and experience my own appealingly disaffected, grown-up tedium... which would naturally lead to inspired solutions for This Problem Called Existence, changing life as we know it for everybody! Ah, the pretensions of the ’90s.

An indie pop band originally from Auckland, New Zealand, The Beths formed in 2014 while attending the same university jazz class. They've released two prior records, and I had never heard of them before I pressed play on Experts In A Dying Field (which maybe gives credence to the "this sound never went away; I've just missed it" theory). Now, however, I am definitely a fan. I'm sure you can expect more reviews as I explore their back catalog, dear reader.

The title track provides a solid album opener, with a Letters To Cleo-esque vigor permeating throughout. "Silence Is Golden" is an enlivening ditty, its riffing guitars and open-hearted lyricism feeling equal parts Anna Nalick and The Donnas. I get serious vibes of "Having An Average Weekend" by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet (aka, The Kids In the Hall theme song) from "Your Side." A mingle of Rachel Katt-esque zeal mingles bouncily with Temper Tramp-style grooving in "Head In The Clouds." And much like Rachael Yamagata's "Worn Me Down," a casual serenity belies a tortured feeling of resentfully-earned wisdom in "Best Left."

I could go on and on about how each and every track on this album took me back, but really, I'd rather just lean back, wrap myself in this warm blanket of reminiscence and play the album again.

Does Experts In A Dying Field break new ground? I mean, I suppose not terribly much, no. Unlike, say, another band that harkens to an earlier era, Haim, whose sound is such a distillation of their prior influences that they ironically would sound a bit anachronistic placed next to the ’70s-’80s bands they draw from, if you told me that this album had literally been released sometime between 1998 to 2007, I would say “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Yet at the same time, as an avid fan of this type of music, I don’t need it to break the mold. Sometimes when you’ve been craving a specific taste for so long, simply getting the straightforward recipe is all you need. There’s an unsung dignity in being comfort food, especially when you're a dish which is often unfairly overlooked. Call this an Arch Deluxe, because I'm loving it.

If any of the other music I’ve made allusions to here is not your tempo, odds are this album won’t appeal to you. But if you also feel a yearning for “Alt. Mellow Sock-Gawping” (which, again, is a term that I completely made up and doesn’t really have a coherent definition), then perhaps we can unite in heartily endorsing these professionals in that declining category.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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