Friendly Fires: Late Night Tales
Late Night Tales

How to stand out in the ever-crowded mix genre? Assemble a great track list, first of all, and then make sure a few eyebrow-raising oddities appear, too (Olivia Newton John's “Love Song,” anyone?). Friendly Fires mates Ed MacFarlane, Edd Gibson, and Jack Savidge do all of that and more in their effervescent contribution to the Late Night Tales project—the thirtieth in the series, no less. Like others before them, the trio was asked to select their “ultimate late night collection” of favourite tracks, and so rose to the challenge with a diverse set split between contemporary electronic artists (DJ Sprinkles, Laurel Halo, Grouper, Nils Frahm) and art-pop mainstays (Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Stereolab). Friendly Fires' 2011 sophomore album Pala revealed the band's affection for artists like Talking Heads, Timbaland, Scritti Politti, Carl Craig, and Boards of Canada, and a similarly eclectic sensibility infuses the new disc, too.

The mix ranges widely, not just in style but in time terms, too, with a fresh slab of hypnotic funk from Junior Boys (“Under The Sun”) followed by a retro slice of ‘80s vocal pop by Renee (“Change Your Style”). The initial part of the collection oozes a retro-soul vibe, with the productions often sounding like they emerged before the advent of electronic and digital production technologies. A loose and funky spirit infuses material like Joe Simon's “Love Vibration” and Dennis Parker's “Like An Eagle,” and disco strings, horns, electric pianos, and clavinets bolster the old-school feel.

Iron Galaxy's “Attention Seeker” brings the music up to the present day with an episodic foray that even includes an acid house moment or two, and dance music splendour is present, too, in the form of DJ Sprinkles' “House Music Is A Controllable Desire You Can Own.” Laetitia Sadier's voice gives Stereolab's “Black Arts” a comforting familiarity, while Laurel Halo and Cocteau Twins' Elizabeth Fraser conjure seductive vocal fantasias in “Embassy” and “Cherry Coloured Funk,” respectively. Beats fall away during Sonna's ambient interlude “One Most Memorable,” a move that anticipates the disc's gravitation towards moodscaping territory as exemplified by Grouper's stirring vocal incantation “Invisible” and Nils Frahm's elegant piano setting “After” (one final surprise follows a pregnant pause: a bedtime tale recited by actor Benedict Cumberbatch).

The mix is elevated by strong melodic fare like SBTRKT's “Hold On” and Friendly Fires's cover of the 1978 Eberhard Schoener and Sting collab “Why Don't You Answer?” (featuring a very Sting-like vocal, one might add), and its emphasis on vocal-based productions makes it easy to warm up to. The Cumberbatch piece aside (which arrives too late in a long, seventy-eight-minute set to be as welcome as it might otherwise be), the set is pure pleasure from start to finish.

December 2012