Album Review: Javelin – Hi Beams

[Luaka Bop; 2013]

Despite several electro-pop contemporaries and perhaps unfair genre trend-related stigmas, Javelin stays afloat. They’ve managed to set themselves apart with their bafflingly fun and sample-less No Más and have even messed around with the wild west on their Canyon Candy EP. This is a duo that certainly doesn’t want to be pigeonholed, stretching their limitations and often ending up in unfamiliar territory. It really isn’t a challenge to see that they enjoy keeping themselves on their toes, and while Hi Beams abides to the same philosophy it isn’t quite as audacious or unexpected as a sampled country record.

Hi Beams shares a few quick ties with No Más, but there is less of a collage emphasis; lyrics, heavier pop song structure, and a heightened sense of minimalism drive this one. Javelin’s trademark summer-jam bravado is still very much intact, however they definitely want to say more but not necessarily in the vein of their upbeat instrumentals. “Light Out” builds up quickly and then descends into itself, introducing vocals to the foreground and meshing criticizing lyrics with a fairly high-flung tone, calling out: “it’s time to put the light out.” The light seems to dissipate for a short period of time with “Nnormal,” an odd choice for a single and by far the boldest and most transforming moment on Hi Beams. It oddly channels some sensibilities of Battles with its shimmery, repetitive guitar work and modulated vocals, providing a glimpse into a weirder side of the band.

The rest of Hi Beams moves at a structured, particularly vocalized pace that goes back to older jams like “Off My Mind.” “Airfield” is perhaps the best example of these brighter songs, making nice use of their more controlled sound profile. The lyrics are fairly singable and work for the building melody and while it’s fine to hear more of their recognizable voice, the breathing room of their past collections is toned down in accordance.

If it wasn’t already clear that Javelin’s priorities have become dearer to songwriting, “City Pals” certainly seals the deal. Driven by the lyrical quip: “put a little backdrop in your life,” the sound harkens to the synth-enveloped moments of the Beatles, featuring what sounds like a Moog used on Abbey Road as well similar harmonization techniques. While retro pop music of this caliber is familiar ground for Javelin, those moments on Hi Beams seek a deeper level of purification, which ultimately has the album thirsting for a couple more broken rules.

Tonally, Hi Beams feels to be Javelin at their most grounded, while the dark tease of “Nnormal” leaves some space to wonder if Tom van Buskirk and George Langford may be capable of even more progressive, off-beat material. The situations that the two feel most powerful in are when they are combatting their own musical experiences and attempting to exceed what may sound like a simple pop tune at first with witty lyrical imagery nestled in between, and while there are moments when the lyricism feels overbearing (“Friending”, “l’Ocean”), they usually make up in production skill and chemistry. Javelin’s sound has in fact undergone distilled changes, but the result is still a fun album that once again brings up the question of what could be next for the duo.