Kenny Becker had finally sat down to record Goon’s first full-length album, the long awaited follow-up to their debut EP Dusk of Punk (2016), when he was forced to go in to surgery. Becker had been struggling with sinus polyps for years and his condition had necessitated another steroid treatment to help diminish the symptoms. That condition leads to sporadic loss of hearing and sense of smell and only through repeated operations can Becker maintain his senses. In interviews Becker has compared his situation to that of Vincent van Gogh, striving to make art when he wasn’t sick; using his sinus issues as motivation to help him develop his skills before it was too late.
Goon’s output suffered as Becker struggled with his health issues. They had been developing Heaven Is Humming for three years, having to wait through sporadic bouts of illness while critical excitement for Dusk of Punk’s follow-up wavered. That particular release proved that Goon was more than just a bunch of college kids throwing out an EP on Bandcamp, but the band still needed a more substantial outing to solidify their fan base and in the three years leading up to their first album they decided to release another EP in 2017’s Happy Omen. Compiling songs recorded during the arduous process of selecting which tracks would end up on their debut record proved to be another success for the band. Happy Omen is a softer selection, one that doesn’t do enough to alienate longtime fans but one that gained a shoutout from Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste just the same. That critical praise no doubt helped to soften the long wait time between releases as well, keeping the band’s hands in the game while they fine-tuned their debut.
Goon has remained constant in the last few years, with Becker being joined by drummer Christian Koons, bassist Caleb Wicker and guitarist Drew Eccleston. The band initially formed while Becker was studying painting at Biola University, a private Christian school just outside of Los Angeles. Given their religious background, it’s no surprise that the band draws some inspiration from Christianity. Becker, grappling with what faith means to him, keeps the album from being spiritually preachy in any way. It is consistently inward and often adds another layer to the angsty duality of the band’s sound. How do we continue doing the thing we love when everything in the universe has pulled us away from it or made it more difficult?
It’s a theme that drives the emotional backbone of this album, a feeling of uncertainty that is less focused on religious specificities than on sheer confusion and pain. For a band which has had to balance their inspiration with their ability to physically make music, Goon still manages to sound incredibly sporadic as well. Heaven Is Humming begins with a sludgy, slow burner. Recalling Silverchair hit “Freak”, “F Jam” is loose and discordant for most of its run. Becker screams and yells more and more as the song builds, but in the chorus that borrows a bit from (Sandy) Alex G, the song clears up and the blissful vocals harmonise to unify the competing dynamics. This tonal shift is common throughout the album and much of Goon’s work in general, emphasising the struggles the band and Becker face more succinctly than just through the lyrics.
“Critter” and “Deny” play with the quiet/loud sonic elements too, although not nearly as well; “Deny” does however offer a quick burst of energy that helps to switch up the languid pace of the first half of Heaven Is Humming. “Snoqualmie” and “CCLL”, the two objectively prettiest songs on the album help to divide up the monotony in addition to closing both sides of the LP. However, the two standouts are buried deeper in the track list. “Cammie at Night” features Becker’s best vocal performance here, where he sings as clearly as he can, straining his voice to balance out the crystalline guitar licks that carry through. A few of these songs had been released as singles prior to the album’s release and the best of those comes in as the penultimate track. “Check Engine Light” is a classic Goon song – something you could imagine coming off their first two EPs but with the gusto and discipline of their debut LP.
After waiting three years for their full-length debut, Heaven Is Humming fulfills the hype for the most part, showcasing a band that has developed a more layered sound while managing to string together the dynamic shifting tracks that have enticed their fans from the beginning. It’s hard to read anything about Goon that doesn’t mention the health issues that Becker deals with, but that’s for good reason – it’s hard to hear his music the same way once you have the whole picture. Regardless, the music is solid on its own and although oft-repeated, the story does not define this album, the same way that as Goon’s music becomes more prevalent the story will stop defining them.