Album of the Week: Various artists, 'Day of the Dead'

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Various Artists, 'Day of the Dead'
Various Artists, 'Day of the Dead' (4AD Records)

Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the National curated a collection for the Red Hot Organization, to benefit AIDS research, in 2009; the result was the acclaimed Dark Was the Night. The Dessners have spent the last several years assembling a follow-up, the gargantuan new collection spotlighting the music of the Grateful Dead, Day of the Dead.

Day of the Dead is spread over five-and-a-half hours, which works out to five CDs, 10 LP records, or three "volumes" on digital streaming. Whatever the format, it is a sprawling collection of music that is almost willfully designed to be incompatible with a single listening experience. In the way that Grateful Dead fans have their own particular favorite songs, you will discover your own favorites that float to the top of the queue, while others may remain buried for months or years before a revisiting eventually unearths new pleasures.

The set is loosely structured to emulate a classic-era Grateful Dead performance. The micro-managed intricacies of a set list are amplified by the fact that the LP, CD and digital editions all feature their own distinct track orders. In all three editions, there is a clear migration towards bizarreness as the record reaches the four-hour mark, as the A-list contributors largely exit the stage and lesser-known musicians, including Minnesota's own Marijuana Deathsquads, take a crack at the Dead's spacier numbers.

When it's good, Day of the Dead is very, very good, most notably on "Volume 1," which features tremendous contributions from the War on Drugs, the National, and Courtney Barnett. Eagle-eyed fans of The Current may notice that we've given the most airtime to those three artists' takes on "Touch of Grey," "Morning Dew" and "New Speedway Boogie," respectively; one of the clearest aspects of Day of the Dead is that the best songs make themselves evident almost instantly. The entire collection could have been 10 to 12 songs and still managed to pay appropriate tribute to the Grateful Dead; the highlights are unfortunately diluted by the eye-crossingly long runtime of the rest of the project.

Day of the Dead is an interesting, frequently compelling, occasionally fascinating look into the ways the music of the Grateful Dead translates to the 21st century.

Audience ratings for this album


Among The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album, 75 percent gave the album 5 out of 5 stars. Poll closed at 12 noon on Friday, Aug. 12.
Day of the Dead audience ratings summary

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