Sequencing matters. One of the greatest benefits to vinyl, whose continuing ascent in demand is still a distant second to streaming in terms of industry influence, is that it provides a break before the second act of an album, thus providing a built-in rise and fall, climax and resolution to every pressing. At least for the most part. Not everyone takes advantage of that feature, and the inherent limitations of simply how much music can fit on a single side can lead to differences in track order depending on the medium, but time was, you could craft a record with two distinct and separate halves, like the pop songs vs. ambient pieces of David Bowie’s Low, or the acoustic vs. electric separation of Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps.
Singer/songwriter Stephen Pierce follows a similar arc on his second album as Gold Dust, The Late Great Gold Dust. Pierce cites albums such as Neil Young’s On the Beach and Black Flag’s My War as antecedents to the yin-and-yang flow of his sophomore album, which finds his shimmering psychedelic folk songs trending darker as the album continues, Pierce exploring a gnawing existential sadness and separation from those around him through bright and gorgeously layered songs that feel like The Beach Boys washed in 4AD glow. Pierce’s anguish and melancholy is wrapped in stunning layers of sonic ephemera, and in standout “Larks Swarm a Hawk,” even the unmistakable guitar of Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis. Everything’s pretty enough that you might not even notice the pain at the heart of it.
And yet there’s a pronounced sense of defeat that creeps up in the album’s second half, amid the swirl of lush effects and jangly guitars. “All things aside, I feel fine,” Pierce sings on “All Things Aside,” and there’s enough doubt in his voice to question the veracity of that statement. And it’s completely understandable—we’ve all been there at some point, probably recently. But it’s in the final two songs, the dense and crushing reinterpretation of The Byrds on “Weird Weather” and the surrealistic shoegaze of “For Luna,” where Pierce brings the album to a triumphant high, and achieves a sense of peace in spite of the downward spiral he seems to be on leading up to that. Where on the former he sings, “this time I lived through it, though I keep thinking I won’t,” the latter provides a kind of acceptance as he tries to “right all vaguely wrong from the shelter of a song,” only to find a kind of acceptance in a messy, untidy uncertainty. The journey Pierce takes on The Late Great Gold Dust isn’t necessarily best heard on a particular medium—stream it, spin it, pick your poison—but its many highlights only add up to a greater whole. The proof is in the sequence.