Hi Beams is the second release by Brooklyn duo Tom Van Buskirk and George Langford, on the David Byrne founded Luaka Bop label. Unlike their self-produced 2009 debut, Jamz n Jemz,Hi Beams was recorded in Machine With Magnets Studio with a slew of professional equipment at their deposal. The result? More toys and more fun sounds to play with.
In Jamz n Jemz, Javelin explored hip-hop, folk, jazz, pop and dropped a dozen other ten-second glimpses into micro-genres they don’t seem terribly concerned with defining. Hi Beams sort of follows suit, but narrows down the focus to variations of electro pop. The biggest style change in the album is from the first track, “Light Out” which balances shiny glockenspiel and keyboard with low-end violin pulls, to their first single, “Nnormal,” which sounds like a cut from Watch the Throne. The fast moves are exciting to watch as each song quickly develops into its own mini pop ballad.
There’s a bit of the expected slump two-thirds the way through the album, somewhere in the blur of synth trails and auto-tune art in “L’Ocean,” “Drummachines,” and “City Pals.” On the seventh or so listen, I still get a little nauseous of the repetitive high to low synth rhythms. The description on Luaka Bop notes, “[the] songs were made to be performed in concert rather than as a patchwork of fragmented glittery shards.” Pushing aside the mental image of vomiting “glittery shards” of Goldschläger, it makes sense the tracks would work better mixed in a concert setting than in a casual listening setting.
Between Javelin’s eye-catching prismatic cut and paste artwork and the quick genre-switching movement of both albums, it’s understandable the band has received a bit of attention. Even more noteworthy is the flippant cartoonish lack-of-fuck this band gives. One of the best moments on Hi Beams is “Judgment Night,” a mammoth-sounding Jefferson Starship style instrumental that should’ve been the theme song to Robot Unicorn Attack. Javelin clearly isn’t taking themselves too seriously and is more concerned with improving moods than making people consider their own impermanence, which in the sometimes hypersensitive music community, makes for a nice change.
Hi Beams is out on March 5 via Luaka Bop.