Quick Spins

Dark Was the Night, a Compilation By Various Artists

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Various Artists

To call "Dark Was the Night" an indie-rock compilation isn't quite accurate. It's true that the double-disc, 31-song album -- the latest in a two-decade-long benefit series from AIDS charity Red Hot -- features exclusive tracks from Internet-hyped stars such as the Decemberists, Feist and Sufjan Stevens. But to claim that more than a handful of these songs "rock" would simply be false. If your next door neighbor were playing these songs at a high volume, the impulse wouldn't be to bang on the wall and ask him to turn it down. It would be to brew up a latte and attack that Sunday crossword puzzle.

The album serves as a snapshot of the quiet, intellectual brand of indie that has found an increasingly large audience over the past couple of years, one in which string arrangements (Grizzly Bear, Andrew Bird) and sincere, sublime vocals (Antony, Bon Iver) have replaced distorted guitars and indecipherable lyrics. Things can get a bit precious and overwrought at times (the combined 18 minutes of the Decemberists and Stevens tracks) but the good outweighs the bad and it's not like you have to put every track on your iPod. The National's "So Far Around the Bend" is a sharp slice of chamber rock, Yeasayer's "Tightrope" finds the band refining its global sound and My Morning Jacket's Jim James sounds as welcoming as ever on the breezy "El Caporal."

Spoon's jagged, jittery "Well-Alright" and Arcade Fire's stripped-down-but-glammed-up "Lenin" inject some welcome energy, while soul revival should-be-superstar Sharon Jones's take on Shuggie Otis's "Inspiration Information" is the only genuinely funky offering. Tedious tracks from Cat Power and Blonde Redhead slow things down near the end, but hopefully you've figured out what 44-across is by then.

-- David Malitz

DOWNLOAD THESE: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings -- "Inspiration Information," Spoon -- "Well-Alright," Yeasayer -- "Tightrope"

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