The Beths’ front woman Elizabeth Stokes has one of those appealing, unassuming singing voices that conveys the illusion that she’s merely talking most of the time. The fact that she accomplishes this in the midst of something so noisy and melodic makes the effect all the more fetching. At their best this New Zealand foursome is deliriously likable.
“Silence is Golden” is the Beths at their most frenetic, which right away is a bit of a wink in a song with this particular title. Stokes sings of craving quiet in a too-loud world while her band crashes their way through two minutes and fifty-five seconds of hepped-up power pop, with its emphatic, punctuating drumming and scratchy guitar work. And it’s only fitting somehow that a song about the joys of silence leads into a clamorous guitar solo (2:03): 20 seconds of madcap squalling that will make your head spin.
“Silence is Golden” is the third of 12 tracks on the Beths’ new album, Expert in a Dying Field, all of which is worth hearing. Check it out, and buy it in a variety of formats if you like it, via Bandcamp. MP3 again via KEXP.
Remember this feeling? Breeziness? Lack of any immediate concern? “Cool For a Second”—all warm, boopy synths and cheery electronic percussion—glides in with a carefree, encouraging spirit, a lovely breath of good-natured air. Augmented by front woman Christie Simpson’s conversational personability, the song snuggles itself easily into my happy place.
Maybe a bit too easily, if one doubles back and considers the words that accompany the breezy-bouncy music. Take the chorus:
Omissions never flare, they go out if you let them
Changing every year, I was cool for a second
Find me in the fall, swept underneath
Forgetting every charm, took a bullet together
You could pull apart, so I’d never remember
The image that would call you back to me
While I’m not sure what the heck she’s singing about, I’m quite sure that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows here. But maybe, on second thought, this does snuggle into my happy place, because I have long looked kindly upon songs that manage the unique-to-pop feat of juxtaposing happy music with sad or wistful lyrics. In the case of “Cool For a Second,” both the happy music and the wistful lyrics eventually, over the course of this concise 3:10 tune, seem to converge into one feeling—something resembling perseverance. I think this has a lot to do with the powerful circular melody of the chorus, with its persistent up-and-over refrain. You hear it first starting at 0:53, and it incorporates at one point the title phrase, and that’s another of the song’s subtle virtues: finding a title in a phrase that recurs but is not repeated too often. Most songs are named for phrases that are clearly the most regularly sung, and sometimes it’s the opposite, where the song has a title entirely separate from the lyrics. Most unusual is the song where the title is in there but doesn’t go out of its way to stick in your ear. I’m not sure why but in this case it seems especially effective.
Yumi Zouma is a quartet from Christchurch, founded in 2014. “Cool For a Second” is a track off Truth Or Consequences, the band’s third full-length album, released last month on Polyvinyl Records. MP3 via KEXP.
Steph Brown—who is Lips, all by herself–has a lovely-yet-cheeky, plainspoken voice, the kind that can sound like she’s talking even though she’s singing, and she plunges us right into the middle of a story: “Left a note taped to the fridge:/’I’m staying with Josie.'”
Sometimes you just get a good feeling about something—it can be anything, really, from a song to a book to a restaurant to a back road in the country. You get that good feeling and you just know everything’s going to be fine.
I had that good feeling from the moment “1not2” began, with its jaunty, overlapping keyboard motif. I can’t unscramble this entirely—maybe there are two, maybe there are three different keyboards making sounds here—but I immediately like the bell-like, percussive tones employed and especially like the way the background key completes the musical phrase of the foreground leader at the end of every second measure. The intro is both agreeable and purposeful. We are in good hands. When Steph Brown—she is Lips, all by herself—begins singing, the good feeling is confirmed. She has a lovely-yet-cheeky, plainspoken voice, the kind that can sound like she’s talking even though she’s singing, and she plunges us right into the middle of a story: “Left a note taped to the fridge:/’I’m staying with Josie.'” So it’s a breakup story—one, not two. Gotcha. How infrequently here in 21st-century indie-rock-digital-music-land do we get songs with characters and story lines and people simply doing things. After the second verse gets underway (1:16), I am putty in Brown’s hands: “Took the dog out for a walk/Bumped into Mrs. Bacon/She asked me about how you were/It was an awkward conversation.” This brings to mind some of those great Squeeze story-songs from the late ’70s and early ’80s, and her adjunct commentary underneath the lyrics, as she “acts out” the scene a bit, is casually delightful. The whole song is casually delightful, but make no mistake, as DIY as this is, it’s also very smartly constructed and performed—a pure pop song in a digital sea of blurry, aimless drivel.
Lips is the name of Steph Brown’s solo recording project; “1not2” comes from the debut release, a five-song EP called Lips Songs, available via Bandcamp. Brown is from Auckland, but has been living (where else?) in Brooklyn for the last three years, with her four keyboards. (She used to have six but sold two of them to move to the US.) She is also in a band with Deva Mahal (Taj Mahal’s daughter) called Fredericks Brown, which plays an entirely different kind of music (simmering and soulful), and has also just released an EP. The “1not2” MP3 is a Fingertips exclusive right now.