Don’t miss Goon tonight at Kung Fu Necktie!! Doors open at 7:30. Tickets are $15 a pop.
The first cut is the deepest, but the second album can make or break a band. Venture too far into new sonic territory and risk losing sight of what drew fans to you in the first place. Stick too close to that tried-and-true formula and critics will write you off as yet another one-trick pony. Even surefire superstars don’t survive their second album without those pesky growing pains.
But regardless of whether you’re content on plugging back into your amps or fumbling over how to incorporate a Moog synthesizer, like it or not, for better or worse, once everyone finally bothers to return to the studio, unless you’re Metallica, odds are the names on the CD jacket will stay the same.
Of course, that wasn’t the case for Goon when they finally got around to recording their second album. It’s a good thing too. They’re now a better band.
Heaven is Humming remains a solid first pass at sunbaked psych-rock. Goon’s debut ebbs and flows between warped and melty jangle-pop and grunge-stained garage rippers. The sluggish stabs at Beach Boys harmonizing are stacked and smeared with gray clouds of reverb. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the track list were different names for the same strand of weed. When Goon stripped back and slowed down, they could tap into some of the dazed, dreary reverie of peak Real Estate. Cranked up, the LA foursome came close to the cresting tidal wave choruses of Astro Coast. But mostly, Goon bobbed uneasily between those stylistic buoys, which is a choppy way of saying they ended up sounding like Wavves minus the snot-nosed attitude.
If that reference feels outdated, well, there’s a reason. Goon’s second go-around does dip its paint brush back into that sludgy vat of acid-washed surf rock. Lead single “Angelnumber 1210” wades neck high through undulating spells of delayed guitar tones and cryptic numerology. Meanwhile, “Wavy Maze” unwittingly stumbles over a trapped door, plummeting down a screaming mine shaft that’s caked in grungy gloam. But Hour of Green Evening is colored by a far more expansive and expressive palette.
“In my mind, it’s referring to that time of day when the sun is just about going down, and like, the green of the trees in your neighborhood seem to be glowing from the deep yellow light that happens around then”.
That’s Kenny Becker talking to The Big Takeover. Becker is Goon’s lead vocalist and long-withstanding frontman. Since 2015, he’s been filling Bandcamp with a steady drip of demos and EPs under the goofy Goon moniker (which stands for Garden of Our Neighbor).
On top of writing, producing and guitar noodling, Becker also paints most of Goon’s cover art. At first glance, the cover of Hour of Green Evening looks relatively simple: a lush landscape of a deserted office park or quietly shrinking reservoir that I imagine are practically commonplace down around the San Fernando Valley. But sit with it for a while and what was once an ordinary ladder suddenly starts to warp into unfamiliar, oblong shapes. Those oily greens and seasick yellows smear and wobble, revealing another window into Goon’s new weird and wondrous album.
After getting dropped from Partisan Records, Goon lost several members to the comforts of family life and actual-paying jobs. But within a year, Becker had already recruited a new cast of players around drummer Andy Polito to pair with a whole fresh batch of songs. The plan was to kick around those jams live and in-person at South by Southwest and a small handful of lower-stakes club venues. But this being 2020, Becker called an audible and spent lockdown gelling with his new bandmates at Glendale’s Tropico Beauty studio.
Instead of his own brainchild, Becker wanted Goon’s next album to resemble the inner workings of a tight-knit band. Every Goony gets their moment to shine on Hour of Green Evening. Polito remains a steadying presence, laying down percussive blankets that sway and thump like a windblown orchard. Guitarist Dillon Peralta unlocks a new dimension by playing funhouse mirror to Becker’s lead, leaving behind a close trail of wobbly fuzz tones and distortion squeaks. Fellow new addition Tamara Simmons acts more like a shadow on the wall, but it’s her cozy bass strums that gently guide the sleepyheaded harmonies back to bed by the end of “Last Light On”.
But Hour of Green Evening hums along its own collective wavelength. The album was recorded live to tape, with everyone playing at each other’s side. That old-school approach casts an inviting glow over these songs that I don’t get from most jam-conscious bands. Don’t get me wrong; you should definitely pack a fat bowl and get lost in the wooly folds of “Buffalo”, where strings graze and guitars twirl like the changing of the seasons. But if you’re looking for a gateway into Hour of Green Evening, start by dropping deeper into the track list.
In one sense, “Emily Says” is the closest Goon come to conventional indie rock. The way the lilting vocal barely breaks above that gloomy downpour of riffs could’ve been taken off Something About Airplanes. It’s also one of the only songs on Hour of Green Evening that revolves around a clear, honest-to-God chorus. Heck, you can even make sense of maybe something like 90% of the lyrics.
Becker wrote “Emily Says” for his wife, Emily Elkin, who you just heard roaming across “Buffalo” with her big weepy sweeps of cello. It’s a hopeful ode to the power love holds, how caring for another person can save your life in return. But that’s not the only reason why he points to “Emily Says” as the “quiet, beating heart” behind this bejeweled oddball of an album. Hope might spring eternal, but Becker is all too aware that even the sunniest mindsets can be shrouded by darkness.
That’s a pretty rough pill to swallow. But Hour of Green Evening balances out the darkness with plenty enough light. In striking that stark contrast, Goon have transformed into something much stranger – and ultimately, more special – than your average midnight toker.
I’ve got more to say about Goon and all the beautiful oddities scattered around Hour of Green Evening. But I’ll save those nuggets for later this week. For now, get psyched to see Goon tonight at Kung Fu Necktie. Doors open at 7:30. Tickets are $15 a pop.
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