Curated by brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National, the Dark Was The Night compilation (Feb 17th, 4AD) is so stuffed full with amazing covers and duets and original songs from so many of my favorite artists, it’s almost ridiculous. The double-disc album benefits the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS.
The one track on here that I’ve been most itchin to hear is the new one from The National (although the Dessner brothers’ musical contributions reach further throughout the album, with collaborations with Bon Iver/Justin Vernon above, and Antony heartbreakingly covering Bob Dylan). “So Far Around The Bend” sounds like a time warp to me, like it foxtrotted in from some other era. It is almost jaunty, but with that rich gray undercurrent swirls, and drums thump like a pounding heartbeat.
The Gillian Welch/Conor Oberst duet on “Lua” is absolutely murdering me right now (listen in about a week on the MySpace player, it will rotate through to its day in the sun), and Jose Gonzalez and The Books covering Nick Drake? Really? Sigh. It really is an exceptionally high-quality and eminently listenable collection; the full tracklisting is here.
Aaron Dessner writes more about the process of how this album came to be, and the end results:
As we invited friends and peers to contribute, our collective social awareness became apparent: anyone that had the time was willing to donate their time and their music to the Red Hot cause. But there were many different stories behind each song: some we had heard live and knew had to be on the record (The Books “Cello Song”, My Brightest Diamond’s “Feelin Good”); close friends whose arms we knew we could twist enough to give us special tracks (Arcade Fire, and Sufjan Stevens); bands we asked who were too busy but had solo projects or side projects they could include (Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio and Jonsi Birgisson of Sigur Ros); songs we had always imagined certain artists singing (Cat Power’s “Amazing Grace” and Antony’s “I Was Young When I Left Home”); and dream collaborations (David Byrne and The Dirty Projectors, Feist with Grizzly Bear and Ben Gibbard, and my own song with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver).
In the end, there was enough great music to produce two discs–one dark and homegrown with almost classical arrangements of folk themes; the other more bright and evocative of the best of independent rock music at the beginning of the 21st century. “Dark Was The Night” and the Dore illustrations for Milton’s Paradise Lost, which make up the art imagery in this booklet, evoke a “fallen” world of struggle, but also the capacity of art to inspire us to rise above the obstacles put in our path. Our nights may be dark, but music gives us inspiration and hope of brighter days to come.