Cousins Tom Van Buskirk and George Langford have made a name for their Javelin project with clever, obscure, sample-based productions. On their 2010 LP, No Más, they graduated from the lo-fi genre-hopping recordings of their early mixes and singles in favor of a dressed-up sound that still captured the quirkiness of their funky, crate-digging identity. It didn’t have quite the same level of charm as those hazy and chilled beginnings but it sounded like a reasonable extension of their original collage of nerdy inspirations. For the second full-length, however, Javelin has nearly ditched the mold entirely. For Hi Beams, the cousins stepped away from their laptops and hit a real studio, using real equipment to create a sleek, pop-happy album that employs a variety of sounds and feels like an overblown mishmash of ideas.
Electro-pop, prog-rock, Auto-Tune, drum machines—it’s all there on Hi Beams, packed together into a 31-minute suitcase of a person who can’t decide what to bring along for a short weekend vacation. Toggling between the anthemic indie pop of Fun. (“Light Out”), progressive synth lines of Yes (“Judgement Nite”) and electronica of Röyksopp (“Airfield”), Van Buskirk and Langford, as always, certainly have an aptitude for selecting a laundry list of styles. Simply having that knowledge though shouldn’t necessitate them indulging every single one of their creative impulses. “Friending” shares the ra-ra spirit and bombast of Sleigh Bells but without the image and consistent theme that makes Alexis Krauss unique. All of it feels to be wading downstream from the tops of the latest indie music charts rather than recontextualizing the influence of many avenues into a seamless concoction, as they’ve previously done on Jamz N Jemz and Canyon Candy.
Despite its upbeat personality and general happiness, the album doesn’t have a distinct personality or identity. The songs deal in mostly elementary lyrics and vocoder-washed vocals that are bright but begin to grate on you with their constant daintiness. On the ELO-like “City Pals,” Javelin achieves a melody with potential, but it never takes off in a direction that packs any punch and exacerbates the album’s lack of substance.
Those in search of a work that resembles Javelin’s previous output will likely be left continuing their hunt after listening to this one. The DNA of it all is written into the style-informed nature of the songs, but the transition to studio-created, sample-less compositions leaves the cousins on a journey of their very own, trying on a variety of costumes, seeking an identity that’s not yet formed at this stage.