On EP1¸ EP2 and their first full-length on the prestigious Luaka Bop label No Mas, the Brooklyn electro-trickster duo Javelin demonstrated the full range of a coherent-if-cluttered musical/cultural language. Like Beck, early Javelin leans heavily on Space Age ’70s funk colored with a bit of streetcorner hip and surreal sound warping, along with a fair helping of trite-pop and intentional chintz. It is tempting to call Javelin’s early work a pastiche of references, because that’s what it would be if someone else were making it. But besides a basic retro groove kit and a soundset heavy on Farfisas and other iconic period samples, Javelin’s default sound is not terribly referential or recombinant at all. It is its own surreal, playful, groovy thing that just happens to share a set of tools with the culture thieves.
What lyrics there are are half-lit and smeared, poking their head out into clarity only occasionally, often through the strikingly frequent use of children’s voices (both actual and pitch-sifted). In the great BK paradox, lyrical obfuscation, either through obscured production or obscured language, has become a safe norm, accepted if not expected, and the stepping-out into a declamatory clarity is the radical move. 2013’s Hi Beams is, beyond a doubt, Javelin’s radical move.
The knowingly titled Hi Beams offers a global brightening, enlargement and decluttering of Javelin’s sound. The discrete elements are sparkling and big – crushing guitars, fanfare synths – and the compositional moves are bold and simplified, sharing in the synth-chestral luster of Animal Collective’s poppier side. This most of all: The lyrics are right there at the center of the hi beam, naked for your examination. Javelin’s days of sonic obfuscation and lyrical smearing are over, for the time being, and this intention is announced in the most direct way possible in track one, “Light Out,” in which the phrase “put your light out” is flipped in meaning to say, in essence, that it is now your turn to step to the front and shine, over bright synths, orchestral bells and a martial snare beat. It’s a stirring overture to a stirring record.
Clarity is always for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. For all its aesthetic legitimacy, obscurity usually serves some self-protective psychological purposes as well, and dropping the veil is no guarantee that you have something important to show behind it. But clarity of purpose and a bold sharpening of musical concept serve Javelin extremely well across Hi Beam’s ten lustrous tracks. It’s a coming-out party – which doesn’t mean that Javelin’s next release won’t be a crawling-back-under party.
Javelin, PWR BTTM & Photay, Friday, November 21, 9:30 p.m., $12/$10, BSP, 323 Wall Street, Kingston; www.bspkingston.com.