On artist recognition alone, Dark Was the Night deserves some sort of honor. The two-disc compilation, which benefits the Red Hot Organization and its mission of raising funds and awareness to fight HIV/AIDS, boasts a slew of Pitchfork heroes, including Feist, Conor Oberst, the Decemberists, Cat Power and the Arcade Fire. It speaks to the importance of Red Hot—Dark Was the Night is the organization’s 20th album—and the respect for the record’s curators, Bryce and Aaron Dessner of Brooklyn-based band the National.
Even if it’s nearly impossible to meld 31 tracks into a cohesive vision, Dark Was the Night is stunning in its scope, especially considering these are works exclusive to the project.
If you had to pick a weak link (and given the cause behind the release, why try?), the first disc flows a tad smoother and features pairings that indie kids previously only dreamed about: Ben Gibbard and Feist, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, Dirty Projectors and David Byrne. The succession of songs by Grizzly Bear (“Deep Blue Sea”), the National (“So Far Around the Bend”) and Yeasayer (“Tightrope”) is alone worth the cost of admission.
Covers typically make perfect compilation fodder, and there are plenty here, including the New Pornographers’ take on part-time band mate Dan Bejar’s “Hey, Snow White” (mercifully trimmed by almost three minutes). Quite the opposite, Stevens indulges by turning the Castanets’ four-minute “You Are the Blood” into a lengthier, experimental collision of sounds to close out Disc 1. Canadian MC/producer Buck 65 remixes it for the second disc, which also includes My Morning Jacket on the horn-heavy “El Caporal” and Andrew Bird on the serene “The Giant of Illinois.”
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Few albums this year will be as enjoyable top to bottom as this, and even fewer will mean so much.