Dark Was the Night is a charitable compilation album conceived and produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, and they manage to hook up one of the finest line-ups ever assembled. Indie superstars like Arcade Fire, Feist, My Morning Jacket, Spoon, and many more come together for the Red Hot Organization’s AIDS awareness program and deliver a profoundly extensive two-disc collection.
On these two discs, you’ll find some unexpected collaborations and unreleased tracks that provide amazing insight into some of your favorite bands. The opening track from Dirty Projectors and David Byrne, “Knotty Pine” is a fun acoustic romp, and the quiet Feist/Ben Gibbard duet is soulful and charming. Other stellar collaborations include The Books with José González on the smoothly flowing Nick Drake cover, “Cello Song”, and Antony with producer Bryce Dessner on the tender Dylan cover, “I Was Young When I Left Home”. Most of the collaborative tracks have a strict, low-key regiment, which is an altogether refreshing way to hear these famous musicians join forces.
Some of the finer moments of the 31-track compilation are on its second disc, which features typically more lively rock acts. The latter half of the album energetically begins with stripped-down but uptempo tracks from Spoon and Arcade Fire. My Morning Jacket’s “El Caporal” is a charming, throwback lounge ballad while Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings inject some pure Motown swing. Cat Power’s “Amazing Grace” is pure class and Beirut’s “Mimizan” is a wondrous blend of accordion, marching snare, and twinkling xylophonic glamour.
Let’s face it, Dark Was the Night is essential to just about any indie rock fan’s collection. While most tracks are mostly b-side material, they all give worthy glimpses into each artist’s abilities. The double-disc album is a mostly low-key affair, and there’s no better opportunity to hear a staggering number of great performers take it down a notch.