BY JOHN SCHACHT
One of the perks of being young and in a rock ‘n’ roll band is the license it affords you to be shamelessly self-involved. It’s practically a job requirement, in fact, yet one that being young, confused, and falling in and out of love regularly lends itself to.
Take the debut LP from Auckland’s The Beths, part of the vibrant indie rock scene bubbling up from down under the last few years. Led by front woman and primary songwriter Elizabeth Stokes, the Future Me Hates Me features 10 high-tempo tracks long on fuzzy barre chords, thrumming bass-and-drums interplay, and sunny harmonies that belie the angst-ridden lyrical fare — though without quite shucking its weight.
Stokes, who’d recently transitioned from playing in a folk outfit, takes to the singing role with relish and stands out vocally—she sounds like Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell fronting Sparkle & Fade-era Everclear, with the occasional Joan Jett snarl thrown in for contrast against the vulnerability. On the best tracks here, Stokes manages to balance the music’s adrenalin rush with enough thoughtful imagery to keep the Beths from the hordes of pop punk wannabes. Over the buzzing chords and pointed guitar lines of “Great No One,” Stokes bemoans youthful indecision, comparing herself to a “just a broken bulb/flickering with doubt.” On “Happy Unhappy, where guitars chime more than fuzz, and the back-up harmonies trend more Beach Boys than Blink-182, the Beths embrace their pop tendencies to their benefit.
Stokes’ knack for acerbic lyrics often finds her linked to contemporary Courtney Barnett, but this is not to the Beths benefit. Stokes lacks Barnett’s songwriting diversity, worldliness and clever wordplay; too many of the songs on Future Me Hates Me are interchangeable, built on quiet, jangly verses and fuzz-button sing-along choruses that lament the usual litany of “I” and “me” woes.
It doesn’t take long for the self-examination to hit overload. The song titles alone read like journal headings: “Great No One,” “Happy Unhappy,” “Whatever,” and “Less Than Thou” do not suggest much thinking-outside-the-self box. (Admittedly, this lack of patience is a function of aging; Young Me Might’ve Been Less Curmudgeonly Than Old Me.) Over the charging guitars and red-line drumbeats of “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” for instance, Stokes worries that “You wouldn’t like me/If you saw what was inside me,” seemingly unaware that such self-awareness is pretty much de rigueur for most adults. The title track features the not-exactly earth-shattering acknowledgement that everyone Stokes knows has “has broken” under love’s vicissitudes yet “has fell for it before.” Well, luv, that explains the high-risk, high-reward attraction of it.
These shifting tides of love and mid-20s anxieties form the cornerstone that rock ‘n’ roll is built on. Nor should anyone begrudge Stokes her personal angst—we’ve all been there, but for sheer visceral terror nothing tops being in the midst of it. Still, with experience comes at least the acknowledgement that there exists a world outside our own Facebook or watering hole favorites (not to mention some different tempos or sonic variants). In the end, there’s just something to be said for taking a step back and realizing that your problems, as an old guy in a fedora once noted, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”