Occasionally, like once in a blue moon, when the conditions are just right, and the stars align for a nanosecond, maybe the impossible can become possible, and truly remarkable things can indeed happen. Perhaps it is because I know some of these folks a little from the Auckland music scene, and know how hard they have worked on their individual crafts and performing as musicians. Or maybe it’s because they seem good and genuine people, but I want to re-introduce you to The Beths, a group of musicians who have studied hard to become excellent players, studied music on a deep level, then through their songwriter, Elizabeth Stokes, have found a sound that somehow encapsulates their knowledge of music with something quite fresh, all packaged in a humble, honest, and introspective format that seems to have won the heart of the NZ music pop scene.
In May 2020, The Beths released I’m Not Getting Excited, first track from the band’s new ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ album which followed in July. When I heard it I did get excited, mainly because I’m Not Getting Excited is a really intelligent and interesting song, that totally warrants getting excited about. This X-Factory piece is dedicated unpacking the song in an equally self-ironic way, as musicologists sometimes do.
First of all, the clever use of incongruence with regards to the meaning of this track, described by Stokes as a response to imposter syndrome and the jinx effect in fearing the worst when things are going well. The thing is I’m Not Getting Excited is played at around 180bpm, a fast tempo for any pop song, and it sounds pretty exciting too!
The intro starts with just guitar but the band plays a single hit on beat 4+ just before the first verse starts at 12s, which returns to being only accompanied by a wash of 8th note-based guitar power chords. The thing is that the melody played at this tempo, with emphasis placed on the 4+ of every bar (see figure 1), without a band helping to keep time, for a whole chorus, is no mean feat. This band is tight and their sense of time and rhythmic awareness a testament to hours of practice in the woodshed.
Looking at the rhythm in general, this track combines the repetitive with the syncopated with some unexpected band dropouts such as at 1m58s over the lyric ‘lose it all’ (btw the prosody is not lost on me), and also over the lyric ‘goodbye’ at 2m08s, with a false ending that lasts two whole bars before the final chorus. In this case, intelligent congruence adds a layer of reserved humour, and keeps you hooked.
Next let’s look at the melody in the verse. It starts with the ubiquitous major pentatonic scale (G) then soon transitions to a G Mixolydian mode with melodic emphasis placed on the flattened 7th in bars 3, 4, 5 and 6. At bar 4 and 5 over the lyrics ‘in’ and ‘learn’ the melody spells a sixth, an unusual note choice for a mainstream pop tune, more reminiscent perhaps of a melody found in a Brazilian Bossa Nova, as is the syncopated rhythmic phrasing found in the melody come to mention it. Furthermore, melodic contour found in the verse uses a combination of guide tones (3rds and 7ths) and unexpected leaps, an ‘excited’ melody if you will, containing both conjunct and disjunct properties. This is also unusual for a pop melody, and to me, it demonstrates an understanding of the importance of shape and contour in melody generally.
The chorus (see Fgure 2), as one might expect, has a little more harmonic movement using D and C major (5th and 4th chords respectively) at bars 13-15, and also modal interchange is employed at bar 16, borrowing a chord from the parallel minor 3rd chord – Bb major, adding a pinch of non-diatonic spice. More melodic prosody occurs during bars 16-17 as the melody becomes less dense over the lyrics ‘fading away’, and finally more melodic intelligence with a melismatic phrase over the word ‘away’, enclosing of the root note (G).
Other tensions evident in the chorus are the use of an 11th (G) at bar 13 over a D chord, normally a ‘handle with care’ note, and the deliberate blurring of the lyrics at the beginning of each phrase connoting an ‘other worldly’ feel.
Not wanting to sound too much like a fanboy, I am totally into I’m Not Getting Excited, a song that showcases the musicality and creativity of a band who are truly deserving, through dedication to their craft, hard work, creativity, introspection and flair.
Dr Mark Baynes is Programme Leader for the Bachelor of Musical Arts degree at MAINZ, Auckland; a degree program that fosters students’ ability to find their own musical voice, culminating with the creation of a capstone project such as an album, film score or music for game audio. For more information visit mainz.ac.nz