Three years on from their full-length debut No Más, an enjoyable mix of indie-pop-electro with hints of R&B, New York-based electro duo Javelin – comprising cousins George Langford and Tom Van Buskirk – return with Hi Beams, their second full-length album.
A bit of context first. Between No Más and Hi Beams, the pair released EP Canyon Candy in 2011 – although with it comprising 13 tracks, it could be considered another full-length album. At times, Canyon Candy is rather mysterious listen: a lo-fi sampled affair that sounds like a mish-mash of old, crackling Americana/folk records with dabs of spaghetti western and tracks called Cowpoke and Saddle Sores. Tracks average no more than two minutes and with the occasional beat thrown in to complement the hissing samples, the paradoxes thrown together help create something rather peculiar yet satisfyingly inventive all the same: in essence, it couldn’t be further away from No Más’ thick beats and pop sensibilities. It helped set up Hi Beams as something that could, potentially, be rather striking and original in its own right.
Opening track Light Out is a gentle introduction, driven primarily by synth keys and twee-sounding glockenspiel, a marching snare drum beat, soft-sounding string samples and lyrics that seem to suggest the moments before some sort of sexual doing (“After all the days you waited, in your mind you never faked it, did you think you would have to stand naked? Here you are, it’s time to put the light out”).
Proceeding track Nnormal (not a typo) is beefier and something akin to Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience – Don’t Hold the Wall and Tunnel Vision come to mind – while Judgement, with its big guitar chords and synth horns, is right from the A Flock of Seagulls and Harold Faltermeyer school: it treads between kitsch appreciation and trashy ’80s.
Indeed, compared to No Más, which has a genre-hopping edge but also straightforward pop credentials, Hi Beams is much more predictable and ‘now’: Airfield and Friendling are very Cut Copy like, especially with its echoic vocals and grasp of decent indie-inspired hooks; l’Ocean has a touch of Gloss Drop era Battles about it but minus the avant-garde streak, and Drummachines blends together indie subtleties and electro beats well.
However, the tracks don’t excite particularly: it’s all rather pedestrian, with the album occasionally struggling to hold attention. This is a shame, because the album’s closer and standout track, The Stars, shows they can manage it: spirited, an irresistible hook in the middle and crossing over between indie pop and electro throughout effectively. More of this and they’d have been on to something.
As it is, Hi Beams is not a particularly surprising record, especially when compared to Canyon Candy. Moreover, when compared to No Más, which largely retains the same idea through, it’s sounds slightly confused, with it trying to go for all-out pop one moment, straightforward electro the next and then into indie-electro: it’s trying to have the best of all worlds without mastering one of them entirely.
Still, it’s an enjoyable and straightforward listen even if its overall impact is small, especially when put alongside indie-electro acolytes The Knife and the heavier Kavinsky and Drive soundtrack lot, all of which have managed to extend electro’s audience and seriously widen its critical appeal.