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Various Artists: Dark Was The Night

 

B+
Album: Dark Was The Night
Label: 4AD

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Over the course of 20 charity albums, the Red Hot organization has raised millions of dollars for AIDS awareness while simultaneously achieving a less-altruistic end: collecting miniature time capsules of pop music. It’s tempting to compare the two-disc Dark Was The Night to 1993’s No Alternative—floating a “My Morning Jacket equals Pearl Jam” thesis, say—but that would just be flame-baiting. Yet both do serve as fossil records on an evolutionary timeline: If the grunge-heavy No Alternative was full of angsty amoebas, the bands on Dark Was The Night are slightly more multicellular, given to baroque orchestration and a palette of influence beyond rock ’n’ roll. Depression-era roots music informs much of the first disc—Feist and Ben Gibbard’s mournful version of Vashti Bunyan’s “Train Song,” Antony Hegarty’s tear-streaked take on Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home”—but indie’s mutual-appreciation society factors as well, with inspired pairings of Dirty Projectors and David Byrne, The National and composer Nico Muhly, and Grizzly Bear with Feist (again) delivering on their dream-team promises. (Then, alone, Sufjan Stevens turns the Castanets’ “You Are The Blood” into a stunning aural CV of his magician’s tricks.) This being a compilation, not everyone brings their A game—contributions from The Arcade Fire, Spoon, Iron And Wine, and Cat Power come off as disappointingly perfunctory and hastily sketched—but as a yearbook photo of the class of 2009, it should age remarkably well. In your face, Buffalo Tom.