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.