Review – Dark Was The Night – Various Artists

Dark Was The Night is a new charity compilation released by those lovely folks over at 4AD. It features a bunch of newly recorded songs, both new songs and covers, by some of the brightest and greatest bands around at the moment, from Grizzly Bear and The National to Feist and Sufjan Stevens. The charity Red, for AIDS sufferers around the world, is the benefactor, and the album assembled by the Dessner brothers from The National.

Now I’ve got to say that some of the bands on here are top favourites round L&L Mansions, so I was rather keen to give this a spin (can you spin MP3’s?) to see what they’d come up with. And it’s mostly pretty good. A few things I have learned from this album. Some artists can be covered, like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Others, like Nick Drake, just sound like weak interpretations, no matter how skilfully done. Sorry, The Books. That the pairing of Anthony Johnson’s voice and Bryce Dessner’s guitar is a match made in heaven (and I’m not really much of an Anthony fan). That The Decemberists still sound like an American Levellers. That Sufjan Stevens, though a genius, isn’t always perfect. And neither are Arcade Fire, bless them.

That My Morning Jacket have a nice line in 50’s doo-wop. That Dave Sitek, stripped of much of the cleverness of TV On The Radio, can be suprisingly charming, though still bizarrely reminiscent of AR Kane. That Stuart Murdoch sounds like a Scottish Nico. That Cat Power, Buck 65 and Spoon should go and take a long, hard look at themselves for what they have done.

Feist and Grizzly Bear combine on the old Grizzly Bear track “Service Bell”, which is not quite the sum of its respective parts. But Grizzly Bear’s own track “Deep Blue Sea” is one of the highlights, and finds them in pleasant acoustic live mode rather than we’re-going-to-creep-you-out Yellow House mode. And the track is followed up by a new The National song, “So Far Round The Bend”, featuring a string and horn arrangement, from Nico Muhly, who’s also worked with Grizzly Bear on their new album Veckaitimawhatsit (by the way, check that link out – a blog purely devoted to the new Grizzly Bear album). Incestuous? Ah, who cares if the music is great. And this song’s a peach, boding well for whatever The National do next. For yeah, sayeth the Lord, Boxer was top.

And there are loads of other decent tracks on here. I haven’t even started wittering on about Yo La Tengo or David Byrne. Or Iron & Wine. Or how I still don’t get Bon Iver.

Anyway, charity albums have a habit of having a couple of good tracks with lots of filler, or re-released material. Dark Was The Night manages to serve up a whole load of what’s called alternative music these days, and it’s a treat for fans and newcomers alike. You might even find yourself listening to it a whole bunch of times. Well done, folks.

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