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“What I’m after is that sad and comforting feeling,” says Goon bandleader Kenny Becker. “The way it is when you’re out in nature but you can still hear the highway not far off.” It’s a good descriptor of Goon’s evolving aesthetic. After effectively rebooting his band—new members, new sound, new record, and no label—Becker found the freedom to make his best music yet. Goon’s latest EP Paint By Numbers, Vol. 1 expands the band’s sound immensely, bringing it in a lush, freer direction, hinting at wilder things to come.
Goon began as Becker’s Bandcamp solo project in 2015. At a friend’s encouragement, Becker compiled the best of the tracks and released them as an EP, 2016’s Dusk of Punk. He recruited bandmates from his college buddies and released a second EP, all the while working on the band’s first full-length, 2019’s Heaven is Humming. The band scored a deal with Partisan Records, and Becker thought his career was taking off. Then things didn’t quite go as planned.
“We spent way too long on the first album, trying to get it perfect,” says Becker. “Our big label debut. At that point, my bandmates were moving on, starting careers and families, all that. I wanted to tour, and the moment had passed. The label decided not to reengage us. It was a tough time.”
Undeterred, Becker regrouped, recruiting a new band—Andy Polito on drums, Dillon Peralta on guitar, and Tamara Simons on bass. He had a different vision for Goon now, making a decisive move away from Heaven is Humming’s grungier sound to a gentler, more expansive style. In late 2020, the band worked up new material and set about recording a second LP, Hour of Green Evening, over twenty days in Tropico Beauty studio in Glendale, California, to be released in summer 2022. Energized by the experience, Becker felt a desire to try something different.
“I was starting to feel a little too precious about the process for this second LP,” says Becker. “And with the pandemic going on, we just decided, well fuck it, fuck a label, let’s just put out an EP of brand-new stuff ourselves.”
Paint by Numbers 1 is the first of two EPs, done in a similar manner to Becker’s early Bandcamp days. Forgoing a traditional studio, Becker recorded Paint by Numbers 1 entirely at his apartment and the band’s rehearsal space, alternating between a used four track tape recorder and plugging straight into his computer interface. The songs were recorded quickly, capturing the urgency and energy with which they were written. Becker compares the songs to “sculptures or collages,” but “no less significant” to him.
“I don’t think it would feel right to simply call them ‘quarantine experiments’ or ‘pandemic recordings.’ It was in reaction to the conventional studio experience that I wanted to make these synth-heavy, super saturated, sort of weird bedroom pop jams.”
Becker also credits his pandemic time spent outside, hiking and plein air painting, for the shift in Goon’s sound. (Becker painted the cover art for the upcoming Hour of Green Evening, as well as designing the EP’s art.)
“Living in L.A., it’s hard to find ‘pure nature,’ says Becker. “There’s always something manmade around you. I wanted to capture that feeling in the music.”
This nature-focused approach allowed Goon to try a different approach to music, writing quieter, less muscular songs, with a much broader sonic palette than before. Becker’s attempts to situate natural sounds with more electronic ones is present in every song on the EP. You can hear it in the way “Garden of Our Neighbor” mixes lush synthesizers and brittle acoustic guitars with field recordings of birdsong and ocean swells, the manmade and the natural living side by side. There’s a greenhouse warmth to a song like “Fruiting Body,” the feeling of being surrounded by life, blossoming plants, fragrances and colors, brimming with a sense of wonder. How Becker’s wife Emily Elkin’s vocals soar birdlike over the grooving, bubbling electronic landscape of “Siren Rising.”
EP highlight “Hi from Beyond” has shades of Goon’s more aggressive past. Becker’s vocals are warm and lush as he sings, “Every worm and bug had its day to be today,” giving way to a caustic guitar freakout at the song’s heart, and the song gently returns to itself, more powerful and beautiful than ever.
“Sometimes when I’m feeling anxious, I’m able to find a bit of calm in the thought that every bird, bug, whale, tree, butterfly, frog, etc, all had their own day today too,” says Becker. “There’s a very valuable perspective shift that happens when you really think about all that happening, out there in oceans and forests that I’ll never see or even remotely accurately imagine.”
The eponymous track is one of the more playful songs on Paint by Numbers 1. A song Becker describes as a mixture of both “loose and tight” production, it’s the sound of the band fully embracing their new direction, with Becker’s electronically-pitched voice hovering beneath blown-out drums and the warm buzz of synths, guitars scuttling like insects.
Paint by Numbers 1 is the sound of a band exploring, pushing the boundaries of themselves, discovering all they can do. These are songs to wander through, peppered with spots of joy and wonder, born out of resilience and hope. With a new LP and Paint by Numbers 2 on the way, Goon is carving its own path through the musical world, a band that could go anywhere from here.
[written by Jimmy Cajoleas]