Covered in compilations

Over the past few months a veritable pantheon of compilation albums were released. Many — “War Child Presents Heroes,” “Covered, A Revolution in Sound: Warner Bros. Records,” “Recovery,” and Yoko Ono’s “Give Peace a Chance: the International Remixes” — featured only covers. One — “Dark was the Night” — was instead a collection of covers, EP’s and unreleased material by today’s indie celebutantes. Most were for charity; others were not. Most were mediocre; a few shone.

In an economic downturn, it seems fitting that the compilation would become a popular way to present recorded music. These albums require no studio time, no planning and little marketing. All it takes is for several artists to donate a track (often a pre-recorded one), and voila! And in purchasing the charity albums, listeners get a lil’ aural pleasure while helping out “children in war zones.”

Most of all, this wave of compilations glorifies the single. Each song is a quick, harmless representation of a band’s sound, but one spliced from any narrative, any holistic view. In each we hear a band having fun, working with friends, trying out something new. They can work really well. Or not at all. But if displeasing to the listener, a simple fast-forward click delivers something entirely new.

If you find yourself in Cutler’s this weekend craving a present, buy “Dark was the Night.” Part of a long-running AIDS awareness project, the double disc is packed with good beats and good voices. Opening with Dirty Projectors and David Byrne on a playdate, the discs continue with the opaque tinkling of the Kronos Quartet, an unrecognizable Britt Daniel, the ever-whiny Colin Meloy, a swaggering Sharon Jones, a pleasant but unsurprising Sufjan symphony and Buck 65’s dark remix of it. There’s a lot to bite into.

But in this tradition of compilations, it seems most natural to just compile the best tracks from the lot. Check the graphic.


  • Nicholas Clift

    "These albums require no studio time, no planning and little marketing".

    If the writer had done any digging at all (or at least bothered to read the press release), she would have discovered that the War Child presents Heroes project was a painstaking process of contacting living musical legends and asking them to nominate a member of the current generation to cover one of their classics. The subsequent process of nomination, scheduling studio time around other commitments (and negotiating those services for free), artwork co-ordination, approvals, project management and countless other headaches took approx. 18 months from start to finish. If her review of the album involved even one iota of that thought and energy, her opinion on the nature of charity records might have some credibility, but since she chose to judge the books by their covers, we can only assume she is a 'casual reader' at best.

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