Elizabeth Stokes isn’t what you would call an optimist. The songwriter, lead singer, and guitarist fronting Auckland, New Zealand indie-rockers the Beths told Rolling Stone that she typically writes her lyrics “most when I’m upset” before stating on her own wordsmith prowess: “A lot of it’s terrible.” In a stroke of anticipatory self-disappointment, the Beths’ debut album is titled Future Me Hates Me, the hand-painted cover art displaying a woman who can’t bear to look at her own reflection; on the title track, Stokes states “Sometimes I think I’m doing fine/I think I’m pretty smart” over crunchy guitars, before later conceding, “Then the walls become thin and/Somebody gets in/I’m defenseless.” The album’s brightest, catchiest sing-along? It’s titled “Whatever,” naturally.
Future Me Hates Me is one of the most impressive indie-rock debuts of the year, delivering on the promise of the Beths’ Warm Blood EP from 2016. It’s the kind of record you expect to come from a band’s third or fourth attempt: tight, hook-filled songwriting filled with energy and attitude, paired with lyrics that cut to the bone and a sense of confidence that betrays the record’s at-times slackened vibe. Future Me Hates Me is also but the latest notable guitar-based record in the last 12 months to come from the Zealandia region, joining Alex Lahey’s sugary and delightful 2017 debut I Love You Like a Brother and Camp Cope’s raw, astounding How to Socialise & Make Friends from earlier this year.
In the past, New Zealand indie-rock bands have typically been credited for possessing a distinctively jangly, drone-flecked sound dating back to the collegiate “Dunedin sound” established by 1980s-and-90s indie bands like the Clean and the Chills. You can hear a little bit of that legacy carried on in Future Me Hates Me—especially on “Uptown Girl,” which marries the soft charge of Dunedin classics like the Chills’ “I Love My Leather Jacket” with the melodic tang of Vancouver kindred spirits and Flying Nun signees the Courtneys. Otherwise, the Beths’ reference points aren’t bound to geographical placement; Glasgow indie-pop heroes Camera Obscura are frequently recalled, particularly in Stokes’ occasional vocal resemblance to that band’s frontperson Tracyanne Campbell, as well as the passionate burn of more mature strains of emo and pop-punk.
The type of music the Beths make—specifically, indie-pop possessing the type of easily apprehendable melodies that get stuck in your head all day—is often critically tagged as “deceptively simple,” which seems unfair. The ten songs on Future Me Hates Me are packed with obvious depth beyond Stokes’ evocative lyrics about the fresh smack of love and all the self-doubt that’s attached to it. “Not Running” begins as with brooding guitar before drummer Ivan Luketina-Johnston’s fills rip the song structure wide open to include miles of chugging riffage; “You Wouldn’t Like Me” switches between a handclap-dotted sway of a melody and a building shout-along chorus with the effortlessness of flicking on a light switch.
Prior to forming the band, all four members studied jazz at the University of Auckland, and their well-bound musicality is certainly evidence that they took their studies seriously. Until earlier this year, Stokes taught trumpet to children in Auckland, a job she ditched to focus on the Beths full-time: “The Beths is almost reactionary to jazz school and trumpet,” she told Rolling Stone. “It’s a guitar band. We make guitar music. I like it that way.” Future Me Hates Me is more than proof that she and her bandmates made the right choice on refocusing their musical concerns—and it’s an absolute thrill to think about where this young band will take their talent next.