Various Artists - Midlake's Late Night Tales Album Review
There's always been the feeling that the Late Night Tales series was more one for the connoisseurs than some of its contemporaries. When compared to say the bottle of Jagermeister and deep pan Hawaiian post-club experience of the Back To Mine imprint, throughout its history, everything from the mission statement to the diverse roster of tune pickers (For example Arctic Monkeys, Flaming Lips, Four Tet) has given Late Night Tales the more sophisticated air of an erm, "jazz cigarette" aided chill out.
Latest in the guest chair are Midlake, the criminally under exposed Texan quintet who broke through following the release of their 2006 album The Trials of Van Occupanther. A fantastically beige - in a good way - paean to the FM soft rock of the 1970's, via the quilted melodies of its standout track Roscoe, it was a record which earned transatlantic acclaim by the bucketload, only for the likes of Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses to latterly benefit most from its sense of Americana re-inspired. Oh, but one more thing - whilst taking four years to record the follow up Courage of Others, they helped save their friend John Grant's life by helping out as guest session players on his Queen of Denmark album, in the process assisting in the creation of 2010's finest male solo album bar none.
Given their background it might be reasonable to have a guess that much of Midlake's record collection would be similar to that of Robin Pecknold, but this 19 song journey in fact consists of three component parts; one of beards from the classic folk era, one of beards from of a mid-70's West Coast vintage, and one without facial hair at all, unless you count Nico.
The British contingent here are plucked mainly from the hippy golden age of the late sixties, a roster including the likes of Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and also latterly their doomed protoge Sandy Denny. Once perceived as subversive, the movement's attempts at retelling the mostly forgotten fables of Merrie Englande are explained in elaborate detail in Rob Young's magnificent book Electric Eden, so it's enough to say simply that what exists here still opens a bygone window into a more innocent age.
The easy listening country rock output of LA's Laurel Canyon district at the same time - created by the likes of The Byrds, Crosby Still & Nash and The Eagles - had a similar catalysing (or decatalysing if you prefer) affect on the record buying public of America, and here it's influence is exerted via The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jimmie Spheeris and the more obscure Bob Carpenter.
What's left is both intriguing and unexpected. The brief appearance of Bjork on the modernist Unravel is surely the chief surprise, but whilst in relatively laid-back form, those Icelandic pipes still promise magic and yearning in equal measure. Less sublime, Beach House underline why their third album Teen Dream finally delivered on all their dream pop promise on Silver Soul. The key revelatory moments however are left to Scott Walker - sounding peerless as ever on the gorgeous, string laden Copenhagen - and Midlake themselves, courageously turning Black Sabbath's Am I Going Insane? into a wonderfully baroque cover version of the deepest integrity.
There was a school of sardonic thought that claimed that with the release of Roscoe, the final nail in punk's coffin was hammered in by a sun tanned, kaftan wearing chap sporting a moustache the size of San Diego. But as this winding odyssey proves, the truth is that Midlake's vinyl has stood the test of time better than anything by Slaughter And The Dogs. Prepare to start raiding the dustiest corner of a second hand shop near you to begin catching up.