Various – Dark Was The Night
Dark Was The Night is a Red Hot Organisation compilation packed full of upstanding artists worthy of plaudits themselves, with 31 tracks ranging from raw Americana ( The National’s So Far Around the Bend ) to lush, stripped-bare pop ( Iron and Wine’s Die ). The Dessner brothers, of New York’s The National, have carefully crafted a loosely thematic album – as one can see from the titles themselves – beautifully blending the 20th charity compilation from the prominent AIDS awareness campaigners, allowing the two-discs to run nicely alongside one another.
With tracks from the likes of Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket, Yo La Tengo, Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens, it is a project that could never fail, especially as the artists brought covers, duets, and originals to the cause.
Of course, in such a large-scale affair, there will always be standouts, and DWTN is no exception. Talking Heads’ David Byrne lends his unique vocals to opener Knotty Pine, a bouncy snippet of pure pop bliss, and Iron and Wine’s Die is a sample of their signature beautiful ballads. The haunting Service Bell from atmosphere-pioneers Grizzly Bear and the sumptuous Feist is the perfect introduction to the immense sounds of Sufjan Stevens’ You Are The Blood. Part operatic, part electronic, the closer to disc one is hardly B-side fodder that was left on his past album’s recording floor. On the contrary, it is astounding to think this is what would often be referred to as only a compilation track.
There are some shockers, however. My Brightest Diamond’s sabotage of Feeling Good would make Anthony Newley turn in his grave, whilst Cat Power’s – “rendition’ of Amazing Grace is a perpetual skip-point. Buck 65’s remix of Sufjan is pure blasphemy, and Stuart Murdoch (of Belle and Sebastian fame) struggles on the lacklustre Another Saturday. That said, for every disappointing Lenin (by the usually tremendous Arcade Fire) there is a truly mesmerising El Caporal (the stellar My Morning Jacket), and Spoon’s happily-rollicking Well-Alright.
The mind boggles to think that I have only mentioned around half of the brilliant talent present on this double-album. Conor Oberst duets with Gillian Welch to produce the lovely Lua, and The New Pornographers up the tempo with Hey, Snow White. The peculiar slowdown of The Troggs’ hit With A Girl Like You by TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek is another electronic outlet on the compilation; Sitek demonstrating that his producing skills are as masterful as his musical prowess.
Unlike many compilations, and very unlike many charity compilations, Red Hot, along with the expertise of the Brothers Dessner, have delivered a wonderful double album worthy of the dollars asked. As opposed to pre-released singles and back catalogue material, the listener is rewarded with, amongst a couple of gap-fillers, some true gems of indie music mastery.
Dark Was The Night is out now on 4AD through Remote Control Records.