Sunday, 29 March 2009

Dark Was The Night, by Various Artists


The Red Hot Organisation’s AIDS-related charity has been releasing an annual fund-raising compilation CD since the 90's, initially a grunge-orientated offering, their roster of contributing artists has always moved with the times.

The 2009 double CD, Dark Was The Night, features two hours of music by many leading indie/baroque pop artists together with some more esoteric contributions. Curated and led by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National, they have given us a surprisingly cohesive collection. The various collaborations that occur on various tracks give the album of the feel of a team effort: Feist + Ben Gibbard, Feist + Grizzly Bear, Antony Hegarty + Bryce Dessner, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) + Aaron Dessner, etc.

It kicks off brilliantly with a Dirty Projectors and David Byrne partnership, Knotty Pine. Bright and catchy enough to be a hit single. Grizzly Bear's Deep Blue Sea is a little more orthodox than much of their output but it charms. Antony's reworking of an obscure Bob Dylan song is the surprise success here. The first CD ends with 11 minutes of Sufjan Stevens wide-ranging aural assault on the Castanets' You are the Blood. If one track can be any indication of where an artist is going then Sufjan is going in multiple directions at once, a glitchy electronic start gives way to a huge band sound, trombones, guitar, keyboards and more. It also features one of the few piano cadenzas to ever appear in pop music, courtesy of the talented Gabriel Kahane! It brings to mind Rufus Wainwright's Do I Disappoint You, and Rufus might not have the field of bombastic pop to himself for much longer.

To my knowledge these recordings are all new on this collection, sometimes new compositions or covers, and a few reworkings of old favourites. It would take too long to list all my favourite tracks, but suffice to say the first CD ('This One') is very much the stronger and would be worth the price alone. The packaging, as can be seen in the picture, is a triple fold digipack with a separate informative booklet. Excellent.

This Disc
1 The Dirty Projectors & David Byrne - Knotty Pine 2:23
2 The Books feat. José González - Cello Song 3:54
3 Feist & Ben Gibbard - Train Song 3:02
4 Bon Iver - Brackett, WI 4:03
5 Grizzly Bear - Deep Blue Sea 3:46
6 The National - So Far Around the Bend 3:43
7 Yeasayer - Tightrope 3:18
8 My Brightest Diamond - Feeling Good 3:53
9 Kronos Quartet - Dark Was the Night 3:51
10 Antony & Bryce Dessner - I Was Young When I Left Home 4:55
11 Justin Vernon & Aaron Dessner - Big Red Machine 4:39
12 The Decemberists - Sleepless 7:53
13 Iron & Wine - Stolen Houses (Die) 1:06
14 Grizzly Bear & Feist - Service Bell 2:23
15 Sufjan Stevens - You Are the Blood 10:14

That Disc
1 Spoon - Well-Alright 2:45
2 Arcade Fire - Lenin 4:06
3 Beirut - Mimizan 2:42
4 My Morning Jacket - El Caporal 3:33
5 Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - Inspiration Information 4:05
6 Dave Sitek - With a Girl Like You 3:26
7 Buck 65 - Blood Pt. 2 (Remix) (feat. Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti) 3:36
8 The New Pornographers - Hey, Snow White 4:25
9 Yo La Tengo - Gentle Hour 5:31
10 Stuart Murdoch - Another Saturday Night 2:55
11 Riceboy Sleeps - Happiness 8:37
12 Cat Power & Dirty Delta Blues - Amazing Grace 3:34
13 Andrew Bird - The Giant of Illinois 4:44
14 Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch - Lua 5:53
15 Blonde Redhead & Devastations - When the Road Runs Out 3:28
16 Kevin Drew - Love vs. Porn 3:57

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