The latest edition in the Red Hot series is entitled, Dark Was the Night and came about after a casual conversation between Aaron Dessner (of the National) and John Carlin, founder of the Red Hot organization. As Dessner states, "I was leaving to tour full time with The National and pursue other musical endeavors with my brother Bryce. While expressing his support of those endeavors, John suggested that we should make a Red Hot record together some day." As it happens that day is February 17th the release of Dark Was the Night.
Released on legendary art pop label, 4AD, Dark Was the Night stays true to the labels standard of eccentric and artistically beautiful music. Spread out over two discs, with one being dark and folky and the other being more indie oriented, the compilation is a massive work and features thirty-one separate artists. The album includes everyone from Feist, The Decemberists, The Kronos Quartet, Iron and Wine, Grizzly Bear, and Sufjan Stevens(that's only disc one).
Dark Was the Night isn't an album you casually listen to but rather, an album you sit down and spend some quality time with. It is impressive and epic in its scope and amazingly well thought out. For a compilation, the album flows with a minimal amount of raggedness and suffers from very little over stimulation or just plain being boring. Dark Was the Night is a nicely balanced record that separates its yin and yang while keeping things moving in an organized manner.
The songs and artists that make up the compilation offer up so many different emotions and ideas it's hard to keep up with everything. Dark Was the Night is thirty one tracks long after all and almost two hours long. Of the two discs, I would have to say that disc two, or the indie rock side, is the better of the set. That being said, disc one offers several highlights that stand out. Feist's work with Ben Gibbard actually makes me want to like the Death Cab for Cutie frontman on, "Train Song," the swoonsome Tindersticks-like, "So Far Around the Bend," by The National and the surprisingly good folky beat pop of Sufjan Stevens', "You Are the Blood." Disc two kicks things in fine fashion with one of the best songs Spoon has done in ages with, "Well-Alright," and from there it just gets better with the strangely beautiful My Morning Jacket song, "El Caporal," and David Sitek's dark synth pop cover of The Troggs, "With A Girl Like You."
Dark Was the Night is a fantastic compilation for a fantastic cause and will undoubtedly be one of the coolest compilation albums of 2009. Is it an essential purchase? You bet. If you like anything folky, indie rock, or collect 4ad, you'll need to own this album.