Javelin’s sophomore album, Hi Beams, shies away from the homely, lo-fi glitch of tracks like “Vibrationz” and “Tell Me, What Will It Be” that made them appear on my radar four years ago. The prospect of unusual instrumentation is gone, Hi Beams is bereft of the random sampling and mixing mish-mash that reminded me of a much, much younger The Avalanches. Instead of the elusive hiss of samples fresh from the vinyl, Hi Beams leans on more polished production quality and the same lifeless vocals that are making the term “indietronica” feel overly crowded these days.
To be fair, “Nnormal” does harken back to their days of building tracks that rely on diverse percussion and the willingness to be spontaneous. Even the off-kilter vocals remind me of past Javelin tracks that incorporate voice as another instrument. The bright vocal layers on “l’Oceans” sound similar to Discovery, which seems to be a huge influence on their new direction. Also, “Garth Hudson,” a one minute oddity comprised of glockenspiel, fairyland flutes, and some chimes are the truest homage to Javelin’s past.
However, none of the tracks on Hi Beams sounds distinctly theirs and are generally systematic and predictable. “Judgement Nite” combines a huge, arena rock riff with what sounds like the theme song to a Nickelodeon game-show circa 1996. Tracks like “Airfield” and “City Pals” sound like Ra Ra Riot knock-offs, and not in a good way. The start-stop vocal delivery on “Friending” is an actually painful experience. So much so, that I had to make sure another song wasn’t playing from a different screen on my computer. Hi Beams consistently deploys lukewarm hook after hook and they all fall flat, just leaving an emptiness that should’ve been filled by the wonky beats and charmingly awkward composition that Javelin are known for creating.
Javelin’s shift in direction wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t so distant from what made them likeable in the first place. The laid-back coolness of No Mas is completely erased by songs like “The Stars,” which reminds me, sadly, of Owl City. The discrepancy between their last release and this one is impossible to ignore and will probably alienate many of their fans. Hi Beams could’ve floated under the radar as another entry in the never-ending compendium of bands trying to desperately merge indie rock and electronica, but the fact that Javelin went down this path is confusing. Throughout the record, they remind me of so many other bands that accomplish their goal with more panache that I feel frustrated by their decision to change so much.