Various Artists - Dark Was the Night
Record Label: 4AD
Release Date: February 17, 2009
It's nothing new to say there has been many a mile of underground success in the past few years. Bands from across the United States have done their best and have succeeded in giving us great music. Distributed across new digital mediums, those same artists have in return received critical and commercial success.
Dark Was the Night is a compilation produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National and John Carlin, the founder of the Red Hot Organization. It compiles, in two disc, the brightest "indie" artists out there today.
The first disc begins with "Knotty Pine," a collaboration between The Dirty Projectors and David Byrne. This sets up the best part of the two disc record-- the collaborations. While Dirty Projectors fans are going to love the opener, Ben Gibbard and Feist do a simple and well done cover of Vashti Bunyan's "Train Song." Feist's work with Grizzly Bear on "Service Bell" is just what you thought it would be, a beautiful harmonic vocal laced around the band's knack for creating a elegant, yet different atmosphere that feels as real as dirt. The problem though is the song's short length, leaving the listener wanting more.
Other notable first disc listens are Bon Iver's "Brackett, WI," the Book's slick cover of Nick Drake's "Cello Song" with Swedish singer-songwriter José González-- which is a nice lead off after "Knotty Pine," and the head scratching, yet hand clapping Castanets cover "You are the Blood" by Sufjan Stevens. The first disc also features the Kronos Quartet cover of "Dark Was the Night" by Blind Willie Johnson, for which Aaron Dessner said was the "theme song" for the whole project, in the album's press release.
The second disc leads off with "Well-Alright," a funky, garage band-pop 70's throwback by Spoon. The track ends and the Arcade Fire pick up with "Lenin," this time sounding less like Springsteen and more like a dirty saloon band. The New Pornographer's cover of Destroyer's "Hey, Snow White" gives faith in great pop music again. A bit cleaner than Destoryer's version, it may also be an inch above the original in sound. Cat Power does a not so memorable cover "Amazing Grace," and Buck 65's remix with Sufjan Stevens ("Blood Pt.2") isn't going to be rocking clubs anytime soon. Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch's duet "Lua" is second to that of Feist and Gibbard. As exciting and well orchestrated as "With a Girl Like You" sounds, David Sitek's voice actually ends up bringing down the track.
Where the first disc is seen as "one dark and homegrown, with almost classical arrangements of folk themes" Dessner says in the disc's press release, the second disc is "more bright and evocative of the best of independent rock music at the beginning of the 21st century." Dark Was the Night is a compilation that is just the above. The first disc shines brighter than the second, but depending on your musical taste, there's a lot to choose from. Since we do live in a "singles" pick and choose world, even if you don't wish to digest all that the compilation is offering you, there's plenty to make a plate out of, and feel good about a cause afterward.