Look, I don’t like Good Night, Gold Dust cribbing an EP title from “No Cars Go” anymore than you do, and not just because “Between the Click of the Light and the Start of the Dream” is so long even Fiona Apple would have thought twice, and no, not just because “No Cars Go” is my favorite Arcade Fire song.
No, I don’t much like the lift because of everything else about this wonderful EP. A band this distinct, a band this thoughtful, this surprising, this melodic, this lovable, this full of heart and smarts doesn’t need a nod to the biggest band in the world to get attention, sell a few downloads, fill a few bar rooms -- Laura Schultz could sing Pitchfork’s review of “Neon Bible” and do all that all by herself. And besides, you’re just setting certain listeners up for disappointment. Good Night, Gold Dust don’t sound a thing like Arcade Fire -- or anyone else I’ve been listening to lately.
“Say it feels like all your friends are strangers/Strangers you’ve met a bunch of times before,” sighs Schultz on opener “Sweet Girl,” and if that sounds like a lot of words for 16 beats, Schultz only uses about 10. She sounds appropriately sad, but that delivery, the slight jumble as the words pile up -- she’s irritated, impatient. The song’s on edge, or at least Schultz is. This acoustic singer-songwriter stuff won’t do. Just as she brushes aside the woe is me-- “Gotta be more than just a sweet girl/Gotta step on some throats” -- the guitars plug in, the drums kick the beat ahead, and it’s a whole new song, or at least one quick enough to contain all those words, and all the drama in Schultz’s voice.
How much song can you pack into just one song? Good Night, Gold Dust build various musical scenarios that their downright astonishing singer plays with until they prove inadequate to whatever she’s feeling, whatever she wants to say. Schultz crams every track with words, and when she can’t find room for every syllable she makes room with jazzy phrasing and fills whatever space is left over with great big blasts of emotion. She sashays politely with the honky tonk swing of “Made to Break” until the lout she’s traveling with tries her patience one time too many -- that demure country purr turns to a growl, then an all-out roar. Two tracks in, you know you’re listening to major talent …
… and a major challenge for garage band (or, perhaps more to the point, GarageBand) recording conditions. The EP’s slower moments trade hooks for ambiance, and “Honey’s” shimmering reverb and the cascading electric echo of “When We’re Done” warm Schultz nicely even when she’s going all out. These are the album’s best-sounding tracks -- they create enough sonic space to contain Schultz’s range and volume. The quicker tracks -- all great -- don’t have the time, or the room. “Downbeat” is a fantastic pop song, a lot of fun live I bet, but sweet Jesus, that voice! Schultz belts the chorus with so much feeling that you can hear the mics, the walls, heck, the band struggling to keep her from tearing the song apart. This is a group that demands to be heard on a well-engineered, well-mixed slab of vinyl, for which I would happily drop $20 on a Good Night, Gold Dust merch table.
Come to think of it, that’s sort of how Arcade Fire made “The Suburbs” -- they pressed every song into wax, then mastered the digital album from 12-inch records. Which they could afford to do, because they’re Arcade Fire.
I’m not saying the only thing that stands between “Good Night, Gold Dust” and a great record is cash, but let’s all give them some and find out.