I already told you about Goon’s new-and-improved lineup and their homespun approach to recording Hour of Green Evening. But I glossed over all the weird and wonderful wrinkles that the LA psych-rock band slipped into those two-inch tape recordings once they left Tropico Beauty studio.
While most of Goon’s new album was scribbled together on productive mornings, frontman Kenny Becker did his best work during the waning hours of the night. Starting around midnight, Becker and his shaggy octopus mop of hair would hunch back at the computer and tinker until 3 a.m., splicing in wonky overdubs, Tascam 4-track tape hiss, ghostly synth hums and all kinds of other otherworldly textures. “Buffalo” lays down for a nap amid field recorded birdsong and muffled drum pads that sound like the titular animal covering a wet sneeze with a lily pad.
At times, all that oddball synesthesia casts Hour of Green Evening in creeping mystery. “I wandered out of bed / ‘cus there’s a firing line in my head,” yawns Becker on “Ochre”. So many of these songs find him drifting through this sort of fitful headspace, stuck between dreams or trapped in reality. But they also radiate with an inviting, childlike warmth. The “hydrangea lawns”, “eucalyptus walls” and Ocarina of Time references are plucked straight from Becker’s suburban LA upbringing. And that squishy snipping sound you’re about to hear on “Pink and Orange”? That’s just Becker monkeying around with the same ordinary pair of scissors that are shoved away somewhere in your junk drawer.
Hour of Green Evening also welcomed some noticeable outside guests into the fold. The name that jumps out is Alex Fischel, whose spork-like versatility has helped sustain Spoon’s remarkable run of consistency. Fischel pops in and out on various occasions, including an improvised piano outerlude that loops a bright beautiful bow around “Ochre”. But the album’s real secret weapon is something — or better yet, someone — that you don’t expect to hear from this strand of fuzz-brained slacker rock.
While chatting with Atwood, Becker singled out “Emily Says” as the album’s glowing emotional centerpiece. Becker wrote “Emily Says” for his wife, Emily Elkin. But “Emily Says” isn’t the only time that Elkin appears during Hour of Green Evening. Elkin is a classically trained cellist. She studied at Syracuse’s Setnor School of Music and tours behind legacy acts like Jackson Browne, as well as many of today’s brightest new stars. If you were lucky to catch The Wild Hearts Tour this summer, that was Elkin swooning and sawing beside Angel Olsen.
Though never quite front and center, it’s Elkin’s brassy cello bends – accompanied by Heather Lockie on viola and violinist Eric Clark – that paint Hour of Green Evening in a deeper light. You can still sink into the couch and waft through this album after a bong rip. But by weaving those strings in with their oily guitar crunch, Goon can now make you feel things besides the munchies. “Another World” is underscored by somber, high-pitched swaying. Other songs are so calm and soothing that they make me feel like I’m about to start levitating. “Lyra” locks into a loose orbit around a tight gravitational drum groove. But the song doesn’t truly lift off until just past the three-minute mark, when Elkin’s creaky cello swoops arch over the bridge like twinkling stardust.
Walking down Front Street through an evening drizzle, I wondered how Goon was going to recreate that studio magic at Kung Fu Necktie. This was my first time at the venue and I’m already looking forward to going back in November when Citizen’s Matt Kerekes drops by with his new solo album. The faintly reddish mood lighting is just the right shade of dingy. Bathroom stalls are appropriately plastered with stickers and crudely scribbled black Sharpie. A 16-oz Hamms tallboy costs $3 all day, every day, and the lone TV plays nothing but a constant circuit of classic MTV music videos.
Kung Fu Necktie isn’t a bonafide concert venue though. Instead, it’s more of a dive bar where the locals all happen to play in scrappy DIY bands. The sound system is limited to one or two muddy loudspeakers. The stage is tiny. It’s shoved at an awkward angle into the back room, against a makeshift curtain that looks like it was stapled into the wall. It couldn’t hold the world’s smallest violin, let alone a mini-string orchestra.
Hour of Green Evening has rightfully gained the attention of blogs big and small. It even received a short but sweet review from Pitchfork. But Goon are still very much a scrappy DIY band. They’re signed to itty-bitty Brooklyn indie démodé recordings, who put out Hour of Green Evening after Goon was dropped from Partisan Records. Even though this was Goon’s last stop on a quickie three-date tour of the East Coast, drummer Andy Polito already sounded exhausted when he told me how they were driving back to New York City early the next morning to return their friend’s van before hopping a cross-country flight home to LAX. The post-COVID touring economy is a grind for everyone. But Goon were traveling extra light. Heck, they had to borrow gear from one of their opening acts.
Luckily, Path didn’t have to lug all their gear for more than a couple of blocks. Since 2017, Path have been carving out their own, uh, path that — while not as puzzling and certainly way less punishing — is just as curious and rewarding as Philly’s more prominent underground trailblazers. The band started out as a solo project; lead vocalist Sam Keeler wrote and released both of their albums himself. Both their self-titled debut and its follow-up, Still, take an electrified, slightly more upbeat bend on folksy singer-songwriting. Most of these songs remind me of the mellow wave of East Coast bands that washed over indie rock during the late 2000s. Others suggest what Suburban Light would sound like had it been recorded by the Eagles.
On stage, Keeler is joined by a band of his buddies, who bundle his soothing sighs with nimble bass burbles, cooing keyboard and jazzy percussion. Donald McGrath shines on lead guitar, teasing out all sorts of intricate skying melodies. Path were stuck with a relatively early 7:30 start time but drew a good-sized crowd, who were treated to several sneak peeks at their upcoming third album.
Fans also enjoyed some old favorites. Yips and an excited handclap or two greeted McGrath’s springy finger-tapped opening to “Eugene”. As Keeler and company slid in behind, it was easy to hear why. “Eugene” is a song about venturing out into the world and hoping that whatever’s out there will help you understand yourself. The older I get, the more I find myself scared and intimidated by that proposition. But “Eugene” makes throwing caution to the wind feel reassuring. The chorus winds along a loose, familiar pattern that’s as comforting and cozy as it is catchy. No wonder it’s gotten a bump from landing on Spotify’s umpteen coffeehouse playlists.
The second act on the bill are also locals. But Queasy ooze with the hard-won charm of cranky scene vets, even though they just finished their first album. The Philly foursome started jamming together sometime around February 2020, right before gathering for band practice became even more of a logistical nightmare. After months and months of quarantine demos, glitchy livestreams and constant tweaking inside Curry Lands studio, Queasy have finally arrived on the scene with the release of Shining Now.
The album was worth the wait, too. Queasy take after Mama in how they unabashedly wear their influences right on their cover sleeves. Shining Now has plenty of songs that resemble the Pixies and Psychocandy. One song riffs on Doug Martsch’s crunchy shamanism. Another feels like a thought experiment for what would happen if Kim Gordon fronted a hardcore band. But Shining Now really reminds me of Twin Plagues. Like Wednesday, Queasy have a dumpster-diver’s sense for repurposing those alt-rock touchstones. “Spherical” sounds like the band tossed their record collection into a garbage can fire, melting shoegaze and twitchy post-punk with the stadium crush of “Cherub Rock”.
Queasy were playing a man down. One of their guitarist/vocalist couldn’t make the show. But they packed plenty of rock ‘n’ roll firepower as a classic three-piece. Snares thwacked. Cymbals crashed. Riffs moaned and screeched. Corinne Dodenhoff wailed while thumping on a gorgeous hot pink bass. Maybe this has more to do with how close I was standing to the stage or that they were following Path, but my lord, Queasy sounded loud as hell.
Don’t let all that noise fool you though. “Nice” might be a coy dismissal of a flaky friend, but the hip-shaking chorus hints at Queasy’s sneaky pop chops. They even covered Death Cab for Cutie.
At first, I was confused when Dodenhoff cited a 2019 Goon concert as her inspiration for starting Queasy. Both bands share a taste for 90s nostalgia, but Hour of Green Evening draws from nicher subgenres. “Pink and Orange” traces over a template established by Boards of Canada, opening the album with a brief but bucolic blip of folktronica. “Pink and Orange” also opened Goon’s set and I was glad they could recreate its kaleidoscope synth arpeggio on a Roland sample pad, tight touring conditions be damned.
Goon played straight through Hour of Green Evening but stopped short a little more than halfway through the track list. I was bummed they didn’t play “Lyra” or the wondrously meandering, melancholic reverie “Maple Dawn”. But shelving the album’s quieter final third made sense. Without Elkin’s cello or Becker’s childhood piano, those songs would’ve lost their luster.
Besides, Kung Fu Necktie is more suited for punk and hardcore shows. Goon started out as scuzzy surf rockers on a similar wavelength as Wavves. Even though they’ve undergone several lineup changes, they can still shred. Becker wigged out on “Wavy Maze”. Polito and bassist Tamara Simmons beefed up the brittle cuts off February’s Paint by Numbers EP, stomping through “Fruiting Body” like a stampede of baby elephants. And Dillon Peralta saved his best Jimi Hendrix impersonation for closer “Datura”, dropping to his knees and conjuring a firestorm of feedback. In a year or two, as an opening act, or maybe co-headlining a larger room alongside the likes of Florist or Megabog, I can see Goon rigging all of the studio wizardry on Hour of Green Evening into their set. But on a gray and misty Monday night in mid-October, it was fun to watch them fit right in at Kung Fu Necktie by turning back into a rip-roaring garage band.
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