For new fans of Javelin, a quick, comparative listen to the electronic duo’s most recent records may leave them in a dizzying state of sonic confusion. The samples looping throughout 2011’s Canyon Candy were culled from a collection of vintage records that could easily provide the soundtrack for any given Western picture, complete with lap steel licks, jangling guitars, organs, and the cavernous baritone voices of a handful of cowboys. Hi Beams, which drops today, couldn’t be a more drastic foil to the antique static George Langford and Tom Von Buskirk wrestled with and repurposed on Canyon Candy: lead-off track “Light Out” is ready for the dance floor, and “Nnormal,” Hi Beams first single, is a slow jam that rolls with inventive plays on Autotune and hip-hop percussion.
These records sound like they come from two very different bands (let alone two very different epochs), but Canyon Candy and Hi Beams have more in common than one can necessarily glean through their earbuds. “If you listen to the records side by side, it’s so funny,” says Von Buskirk. “Someone tweeted at us, ‘I like the new Javelin single and I’m excited about their new direction, but I’m going to miss the way that you could almost hear the limitations.’” Limitations? “We used to have these arbitrary rules for ourselves,” elaborates Langford. “We set limits for the body of work we could work with and the tools we could use. We sampled records only [on Canyon Candy], and only a certain subgenre of ’40s and ’50s cowboy music—not country, per se. It’s a very specific aesthetic. I guess with Hi Beams, the exercise was to work with the aesthetic of a pop album but not necessarily in the framework of current pop.”
It may not be intentionally poppy, but Hi Beams achieves this of-the-minute modernity effortlessly over the course of its ten tracks. The synth-ed out, built-up breakdowns of “Judgment Night” wouldn’t sound out of place in a DJ set that features Passion Pit and Foster the People (who Langford and Von Buskirk opened for when the “Pumped Up Kicks” chart-toppers spun at a National History Museum’s planetarium party earlier this month) and unlike Canyon Candy’s soundscapes, the new songs give listeners the chance to sing along as their songs include lyrics this time around—and catchy as hell ones at that.
“There were some new areas that we explored with this one, a different approach overall,” says Von Buskirk. “There are more lyrics; there’s more singing. Right when we first made it, we came home from the studio and there was some shock—like, ‘Holy crap, is this what it is?’ That was the biggest surprise with this record for us. It’s similar to if you’ve made a painting, and you’ve made this external thing that you know came from you, but maybe it’s a self-portrait when you look at it, and you’re like, ‘Did I really make that? Is it really me? Am I going to take that out into the world as me?’ We test ourselves in that way sometimes.”
Whether or not they can put a name to these self-portraits in MP3 form or categorize them according to genre isn’t of the utmost importance to Javelin, either. The variety present in their set list—which does include selections from Canyon Candy, despite how foreign “Estevez” and “Colorado Trail” seem when shuffled in with Hi Beams—speaks to this, especially considering the fact that Langford and Von Buskirk perform with little more than an electronic drum kit, a bass, a kazoo and a couple of microphones.
“It’s interesting that genre is still a constant topic, because I feel like people are so much more open to a wider range of music than ever before,” replies Langford, when asked about what genre Javelin identifies with. “I think the internet has a lot to do with that. I also feel like there’s a whole world of electronic live music and performers where it’s totally accepted to just have a table and some stuff and just be a dude standing there. That’s an artist performing live, but there isn’t a lot of energy onstage, and when you bring that to more of a rock audience, that does not fly. When we open for a lot of different kind of bands, we see crowds that understand what we’re doing. You need to find your niche audience that understands both worlds.”
Western soundtracks, EDM, experimental ambient, whatever: as demonstrated by their new record and the album that came before it, it’s clear to see that one can’t expect a forthcoming release from Javelin to sound a certain way. The good news is that it’ll introduce you to sounds you never saw coming—and that, though unclassifiable, their beat will keep you moving.
Check out Javelin’s upcoming record release show on Friday, March 8 at Glasslands. Doors at 10pm and Hard Nips and Chances with Wolves are opening. $12 adv/$14 doors.
Photo by Tim Griffin.
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