Jordan Klassen Javelin on LP
Javelin is an album that rewrites history. These ten songs, among the most confidently and imaginatively arranged Jordan Klassen has ever recorded, engage the past, reassess recollections and impressions, turn failures not into successes but lessons for the future. That much is evident from the opening track, "Glory B," which percolates with barely contained energy: disembodied vocals shouting encouragement, jittery percussion providing a potent backbeat, swirl of clicks and thrums that build into a clear-eyed epiphany. At the center of this pop conflagration, Klassen's vocals remain calm, perhaps even contented, as he delivers the chorus like a fanfare: "Hold your memory up to the light, memory up to the light."
"That's exactly what it felt like I was doing on this record," he says. "I felt like I was looking back at past failures – personal failures, failed relationships – and pinning them down with more accuracy and a clearer mind than I had at the time. That's why I called the album Javelin." That act of personal reminiscence and revision plays out not only in Klassen's bared-soul lyrics but also in the vivid Technicolor arrangements. It's not a departure from the eloquently spare folk songs of 2013's Repentance, but more a saturated-color amplification of ideas he has been exploring throughout his career. Javelin is his most vibrant and vital album to date, the one with the riskiest musical gambits and the highest emotional stakes.
These songs spring from hard experiences – namely, from Klassen's struggle with depression and his mother's diagnosis with breast cancer. He writes about these subjects from a variety of perspectives: One verse might be straightforward and even startlingly candid ("I have seen you take the poison," he sings on "Delilah," and you don't have to be an oncologist to understand the implications), another might be slyly elusive, as though sung in code ("I love you more, like kick drums on your bedroom door," goes the chorus of the gorgeously moving "No Salesman").
Despite the fears and despairs that motivated these songs, there is always a kernel of hope illuminating the music from the inside. It's the spark in the emphatic performances, the motor that drives these intricate arrangements, which gives the impression of songs that reach out to embrace the world rather than retreating or recoiling. And yet, to craft these songs Klassen had to take a step back – or several steps way back. He got about as far from Vancouver and its semi-tropical rainforest and decamped to the deserts of the Lone Star State – in particular, the town of Tornillo, just outside El Paso. On the recommendation of James Vincent McMorrow – who recorded his 2014 album Post Tropical there – Klassen booked sessions at Sonic Ranch, a fairly isolated studio where he could lose himself in music, working long days and nights to capture the sounds he heard in his head and to devise all new ones in the studio.
He played the role of producer and played almost all the instruments on the record – a solitary recording experience, but one that kept things focused. Sonically, Javelin is a mixing of ambient and rhythmic elements, from the ebullient African percussion of "St. Fraser" to the heavily reverbed vocals of closer "Smoking Too Long." Klassen found inspiration – a patron saint, of sorts – in an unlikely figure. "The record is a nod to the ‘90s New Age music that I grew up with," he says. It's not hard to hear echoes of "Orinoco Flow" or "Caribbean Blue" in the soft-focus thrum of "Miles," even the delicate overlay of instruments on "We Got Married," even the whispered valedictory of "Smoking Too Long."