The Red Hot Organization has put together a stunning, 31 track, double sided compilation entitled Dark Was the Night, released in stores, digitally, and triple vinyl formats on February 13. The Red Hot Organization is the leading international organization dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture, according to their website. Since 1989, they have produced over fourteen groundbreaking albums with compiled music ranging from jazz to country to world music.
Dark Was the Night boasts a track list that includes new and covered material from more crazy good independent artists than you can shake a stick at. The album features such mind-bottling collaborations as The Books and Jose Gonzalez (Cello Song), Feist and Ben Gibbard (Train Song), The Dirty Projectors and David Byrne (Knotty Pine), and Cat Power with Dirty Delta Blues (Amazing Song). Glancing through this monumental track list, I can’t help but pick out a couple favorites and share them all with you fine people, so sit back and enjoy as I give you a tour of this mammothly important album.
I am fairly sure that if Nick Drake was still recording music today he would probably have sought out The Books to produce his next album. Their sparse patterings of synth drumming illuminate the song’s fragile strings with striking elegance. It was fascinating to see how the addition of electronics to Drake’s quiet and haunting original composition could produce such proud and smoldering uplift. And if anyone does a better impression/ode/homage to Nick Drake in the modern era better than Jose Gonzalez, please, please, please, let me know. What a gorgeous song on an album full of mystifyingly gorgeous songs.
A lot of people are curious as to what direction Bon Iver will go in with his next album. “Bracket WI” could be his latest hint because of the small, but massively important addition of a heavy electric guitar drone as the song’s primary backing instrument. He still has his acoustic make an appearance, but adds some spacey drumming and spooky organs to boot. The song gracefully swells to anthemic peaks with Justin Vernon’s trade-mark double-tracked, blue-eyed soul vocals leading the charge yet again. Compared to anything off of For Emma, Forever Ago, this piece could be his most lush recording to date. I think this little diddy more than whet the appetites of fans patiently waiting for his next release.
“Well Alright” has Spoon playing faster than they have in years, complete with lead singer Britt Daniel keeping his vocals high and twitchy, but still undeniably cool. Sprinting along like Buddy Holly on coke, Daniel stutters “I cannot see you never again,” to open the song, adding “ain’t got much but it can all be yours/throw in my apartment and a hot dog stand.” By the time the rusty guitars come crashing down on the faster than light percussion and staccato acoustics, this song is already a classic.
Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio fame slaps this thunderously happy Troggs cover in the middle of the album’s second disc, slowing down what was already a slow British Invasion track by nearly another minute. Walls of synth, fuzzed out guitar racket, ringing pianos, vintage horns and Sitek’s own baritone bring the Trogg’s inherent sweetness to another level. If that seemed like a ton of sound for one song, it only continues to gain steam through the bridge. With, like, fifteen additional layers of beautiful, ambient drone, syncopated percussion, and those damn vintage horns pouring on top of Sitek, he bashfully wonders, “Baby baby, is there no chance/I can take you for your last dance?” Holy shit Dave, I’ll fucking dance with you.
I could have sat here and written glowing reviews about every damn song on this album, but I didn’t want to force anyone to sit down and sort through my terrible taste for hyperbole. I gotta give credit to where credit’s due, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National produced this compilation and that is probably this project’s greatest achievement. Gathering all of these artists to bring the house down track after track is no small feat, especially when too many compilations are put together with musicians going through the motions, maybe tossing on some b-side of a shitty, Japanese-only single as their contribution. Every song collected here is impassioned, genuine, and thoughtful. Those folks over at The Red Hot Organization have hit yet another one out of the park.