Various - Late Night Tales (mixed by Midlake)
The Late Night Tales series has provided listeners with an inside peek at the musical tastes of acts including Groove Armada, Belle & Sebastian and Arctic Monkeys - and the tradition continues with 2011's first entry from Midlake. The imagery that accompanies the compilation series conjures a moody outdoors vibe and there's no better band suited to a twilight campfire session than Midlake; the band, formed in Texas over a decade ago, has quietly become a favourite with music fans worldwide. From the muso dads who appreciated the 1970s Southern California rock influences demonstrated by breakthrough album The Trials of Van Occupanther to the young and trendy kids enjoying an age where vintage is most definitely in, Midlake despire devotion in their listeners. So, should their fans care enough to seek out what is essentially an iPod playlist of the band's favourite tunes?
Thankfully, this volume is an effective showcase in that it does what any mix should: it's cohesive and flows but throws in enough surprises to keep things interesting. The opening tracks highlight the heavy influence of harmony-heavy and melodic music that occupies a space between folk and rock; while the absence of Fleetwood Mac may surprise some, the warmth of the harmonies on cuts, both familiar and obscure, courtesy of Fairport Convention, Bob Carpenter, Steeleye Span and other acts from the late '60s and early '70s point towards the enchanting sound of ...Van Occupanther. Close your eyes and you may even be tricked into thinking Lazarus's 'Warmth of Your Eyes' is Midlake's very own Tim Smith seranading your ears - it's not, but you won't have to wait long to hear his vocals on the band's specially recorded take on Black Sabbath's 'Am I Going Insane', the guitars of which recall the band's early Radiohead influence while also following on from the heavier sound of last year's The Courage of Others.
Something particularly interesting to note is just how many strong female voices break through like rays of sunshine. If you've seen the band live, you'll know that 'grizzled' is a perfectly fine adjective to apply. However, their music has always displayed a softness and certain majesty despite being made by five bearded blokes, so the apparent influence of the feminine transpires via male/female vocal interplay (see Bread, Love & Dreams's 'Time's the Thief') and the welcome presence of Sandy Denny and Nico. The nostalgic feeling conjured by their contributions fits well with the tracklist's overall rustic appeal.
However, as stated, there are some choices that may inspire a raised eyebrow or two. Scott Walker's Copenhagen is another throwback but, thanks to Walker's unmistakeable croon and the lush orchestration, offers a contrast to the sparser folk and light rock on offer. Meanwhile, in Björk, another strong yet more contemporary female voice joins the melting pot, although her 'Unravel' is so distinct that it stands alone until the honeyed tones of Victoria Legrand on Beach House's shimmering 'Silver Soul' throws another log on to the embers. Although these two songs stand out for fast-forwarding the action to the past two decades, their inclusion is in no way bizarre - unlike the spoken-word excerpt from one of Will Self's short stories that concludes the disc.
Final word? If you like Midlake, you'll almost certainly enjoy this hand-picked musical history of their influences and favourites. My tip is to wait until summer hits, set up camp in a field somewhere (preferably with someone you think is pretty), bust this out on a crackly old CD player and let yourselves be whisked away.