CD Review: Dark Was the Night 

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Sometimes music compilations are random in sound, cohesive in purpose. Curators typically assemble bands/songs based on political causes which often dates results— punk label Fat Wreck Chord’s nowpointless Rock Against Bush, for example, really gave it to the former president and his two full terms. But now what?

Dark Was the Night was organized under the Red Hot Organization to raise awareness about AIDS/HIV, but the compilation’s featured artists share more in common than social awareness and kind hearts: every one of them is a spectacular indie band. Sometimes you don’t need a reason to party if the guests are this fun.

The compilation was put together by brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, who deserve mad props for collecting exclusive tracks from enough of today’s top talent to make any music critic cream his/her jeans. Their own band provides one of the finest contributions, “So Far Around the Bend,” a boozy ode to getting “high through apples” and “running through a thousand parties and million bars.”

The album is broken up into two sides: This Disc and That Disc, two sides that are so littered with highlights, that it’s difficult to pick which ones to talk about. Here’s a quick rundown:

• Dirty Projectors with David Byrne start things off with “Knotty Pine,” an upbeat ditty that sparks with Byrne’s penchant for Afrobeat.

• Feist with Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) sing a haunting duet with “Train Song” (a Vashti Bunyan cover). Feist’s delivery is appropriately cold and Gibbard holds his own without being overly sentimental.

• Yeasayer’s “Tightrope” is bright, loud beautifully weird and better than most of last year’s brooding All Hour Cymbals.

• Antony (of, well, Antony fame) teams up with Bryce Dessner to do a striking cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home.” Antony’s voice is so distinct and alien, that he can make even the most homey folk song sound otherworldly.

• Perhaps the compilation’s biggest achievement is Sufjan Steven’s cover of “You Are the Blood,” originally written by Castanets. The genre-less musician makes the song his own 10-minute mini-epic, complete with horn-sections overlain with Kid A-era computer blips, piano interludes and soaring climaxes before devolving into complete cacophony.

The album’s other acts include The Books [fronted by Jose Gonzalez], Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, My Brightest Diamond, Kronos Quartet, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, Grizzly Bear, Spoon, Arcade Fire, Beirut, My Morning Jacket, Dave Sitek, Buck 65, The New Pornographers, Yo La Tengo, and others.

Pick it up for whatever reason.

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Ryan Bradford

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