Arcade Fire, Conor Oberst, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, The Decemberists - Dark Was the Night

Miss Fliss 13/02/2009

Rating: 4/5

Some of alternative rock's leading lights (along with the showcase of some lesser knowns) are laid extravagantly across two discs forming a decent compilation for a good cause (AIDS awareness). It's the twentieth anniversary of the AIDS charity Red Hot, and 4AD are the ambassadors of this musical venture. So we get a host of quality song writing skimming the genre stones of: acoustica, alt folk, ambient, alt country and more.

The mood is somewhat sombre predominantly, but the album also takes in quiet contemplation and the odd moment of joyous abandon. There are textures of the luscious (the almost classical piano beauty of Big Red Machine by Justin Vernon and Aaron Dressner), as well as the perkily odd (break beats from Sufjan Stevens), and good old fashioned wooden rustic warmth from the many acoustic guitar slowies (Grizzly Bear, The National).

Noteworthy contributions (and surprise gifts to my taste) come from The Books & Jose Gonzalez's beepathon rendering of Nick Drake's classic Cello Song, and the sunburst magnificence of melodic acoustic piano jaunt from Dirty Projectors & David Byrne's effort.

The bigger names come in the form of Conor Oberst (disappointingly not a song original, but a duet version of his song Lua, with Gilian Welch, but it's a precious, intimate gem), Arcade Fire pop up with a fuzzy, thumping slice of tinkling indie ace; then there's Stuart Murdoch who sets the grandiosity of sweeping orchestra strings against cello plucks, and the elongated slow pace and pure instrumentation equal touching, cinematic splendour. Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, New Pornographter and Yo La Tengo also grace the album with their presence. Cat Power's version of Amazing Grace should make us cry, but instead defies hopes and expectations by being bland gospel stuttering, and we can't wait for it to end.

All in all, though, the results are pretty pleasing. 31 tracks across two discs means there'll definitely be some gold to mine in there for every modern alternative music fan out there. And it's all in a worthy cause, don't forget. File under: late night, contemplative listening for one.

'Dark Was the Night' is out now on 4AD Records in the shops and also available for download. It is the twentieth album released in the name of the AIDS charity The Red Hot Organization