“The shame; I wish that I was brave enough to dive in. But I never have been and never will be, I’m coming in hot then freezing completely”. Involuntarily dealing with emotional yin-yangs, gritting teeth and thinking of prosperity whilst avoiding some like landmines, has become synonymous with young adulthood. The above lyric is taken from The Beths’ Knees Deep; a likeable late addition to new album Expert in a Dying Field, so likeable that it summarises the band-to-audience palpability of the New Zealand band and its third album, propped by pop rock breeziness, mixed feelings of hope and evocation, and some pretty dramatic alterations in melody.
The album grits its teeth, putting up with the worst of relationships whilst assessing and reassessing. It caves to the allure of relationships – on Your Side, lead singer Elizabeth Stokes sings of a need for closeness, longing to be “the space between you and the air you breathe” as Battle Born-era Killers synth rockets break up the play – whilst showcasing the volatility of the human mind as the actions of others polarise, greeted by irony and twee over the smoother ride of I Want to Listen – there might be a xylophone in there.
Said volatility strikes under the guise of bad nostalgia, sparking a reaction from Stokes on the title track that entails a recurring falsetto, like a lump in the throat in the midst of reminiscing, reflecting “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?”. She’s as headstrong as she is stunned, blinded by lights as she and her bandmates half-harmonise over the juxtaposed moods of Head in the Clouds, cruising down the highway, knowing they’re cruising away from something – now there’s your yin-yang, and if that isn’t enough, its red hot guitar solo is damn enticing.
Head in the Clouds isn’t the only iteration of Stokes bonding with the instrumentation that spirals around her. There’s an infusion of electricity on the chorus of Silence Is Golden; guitars zap as her voice finds itself unable to manoeuvre, becoming one with the guitar, electrifying itself. But keeping with the theme of the album, friendship – represented by the human voice – is the natural deterrent of old, dead relationships, displayed with jubilance as Stokes and her bandmates sing the words “some things are best to rot” together on Best Left, a beautiful moment that spotlights the importance of both long-lasting and bygone relationships, complimented by a therapeutic guitar solo.
It could’ve all ended there and you’d have yourself the most worthwhile, rewarding indie pop rock experience, but there’s no harm in branching forth, looping jangle riffs to couple calm and unease on A Passing Rain, borrowing a few tricks from indie punk contemporaries like Cloud Nothings on Change in the Weather, all to rewind to the eased palpability of Knees Deep, talk about full circle.
But that was always the identifier certain to epitomise Expert in a Dying Field; palpable, likeable etc. We need joy amidst the heartbreak, catchy choruses like that which belongs to the multitudinal I Told You That I Was Afraid, jubilance to remind us how our drama may just be melodrama, friendship in the form of palpable, likeable rock music.