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Various Artists - Dark was the Night

Released on 4AD Records, 2/17/09

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Almost exactly fifteen years ago The Red Hot Organization released No Alternative, a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks from the who’s who of popular music in the mid-nineties. We’re talkin’ Pavement, Sonic Youth, The Breeders and a brand spanking new track from Nirvana. Needless to say, my little grunged-out mind was blown.

Admittedly, I knew little about the Red Hot Organization back then, but what I did know was that I was doing more than simply supporting an artist, I was supporting a cause. An institution in AIDS education and safe sex awareness, Red Hot was formed twenty years ago to spread preventative knowledge through music and pop culture. They have released twenty albums over their time span, raising over ten million dollars, and continue to be on the cutting edge of the music and arts scene.

Dark was the Night, produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National and Red Hot founder John Carlin, was released as a companion to No Alternative in that both are wholly reflective of the vital independent music scene surrounding the time. And I must admit, my slightly larger and not so grunged-out mind is once again blown.

I was wary upon hearing that the release is a double disc and carries a theme (the two discs are primarily contemporary arrangements of traditional songs, roots standards, and popular classics); however not only is the line-up of contributors astonishing but the actual pieces themselves are also staggering in their splendor and versatility.

From The Dirty Projectors collaboration with David Byrne to the gorgeous and lush Feist and Ben Gibbard track to Bon Iver to Grizzly Bear to The Decemberists to Iron and Wine to the epic closer -- Sufjan Stevens, the tracks seem to get better and better -- and that is just the first disc. If I even begin listing the artists on the second disc I will find myself naming every single one, in order. Diverse, remarkable and lovely, Dark was the Night is an incredible release and one of the best compilations of contemporary collaborations out there.