Sometimes an album is best heard at night. Whilst they may sound pretty good during daylight hours, as soon as the sun goes down there’s a new element of magic evident, that appears out of nowhere. Whether it’s for soundtracking a hazy night out with pals, getting cosy during those dark winter evenings or for early morning rises before the birds have awoken, some records are just that much better late at night.
Here, NME writers go deep on their favourite late night albums.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
‘It’s Blitz!’ (2008)
When compared to the rest of the soothing, atmospheric records within this list, ‘It’s Blitz!’ barely qualifies as a late-night album. But at the same time, the third album from the New York trio is the perfect soundtrack for letting loose on a big night out in the city with your closest mates. Unleashing their devastating blend of spiky electro-pop across 11 bonafide bangers, Karen O and co captured the sound of what it’s really like to realise that it’s 2AM and you’re still searching for a final pint that you almost certainly don’t need. Off with heads and on with the hangover, probably.
‘Dawn Chorus’ (2019)
Time this listen perfectly and you’re due for a startling awakening. The Canadian producer’s second album ‘Dawn Chorus’ starts off pretty hectic – the opening screech of ‘Serenity’ and the sleek house of ‘Night Service’ – but this collection eventually mellows out, gently filling the silences of the dead of night and by the time the album’s final songs form, the rising sun starts to peek through and chirping birds awaken bleary eyes.
In 1981, NME writers voted Grace Jones’ new wave, synth-pop, reggae and dub-influenced fifth album the year’s very best – and the icon-making record’s retained every inch of its noirish glamour in the near-four decades since. With disco’s popularity waning, Jones – always one step ahead – jetted off to the Bahamas to breeze her way through original new wave belters ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ and ‘Art Groupie’, as well as covers of Bill Withers’ hopelessly sexy ‘Use Me’ and Bowie and Iggy’s ‘Nightclubbing’, all aided by reggae legends Sly & Robbie. Exacerbated by Jones’ new androgynous look, which sent shockwaves through the fashion world, the record aches with late-night cool.
A landmark record in trip-hop, the noir-drenched sounds of ‘Mezzanine’ have soundtracked countless moments of drama, sorrow and suspense in film and TV since its release in 1998. Creating that rare feeling of both space and intimacy, the likes of ‘Angel’, ‘Teardrop’, ‘Inertia Creeps’, ‘Dissolved Girl’ and ‘Black Milk’ make this album the perfect companion for drifting into the witching hour and beyond.
Like London’s urban foxes, ‘Untrue’, the masterpiece of a second album by Burial, only comes out at night. It’s an album that feels like it exists in the very fabric of the south London streets on which it was created — glitchy, deconstructed vocal samples rub against beats that hold hands with UKG, jungle and techno in a cocktail that only feels at home after dark. Burial is said to have (literally) road tested the songs on ‘Untrue’ by driving around the capital at night and seeing how they fitted in with the grey metropolis. On the finished product, it’s impossible to disentangle the two.
‘The Archer’ (2020)
An entrancing capsule of gorgeously rich, yet soporific soft rock, Alexandra Savior’s second full-length effort feels like it was crafted with the intention of being listened to at the witching hour. ‘The Archer’ sees the American vocalist at her most instantly compelling, blending effortlessly smoky, echo-drenched vocals with a wash of piano-led arrangements to induce a dreamlike state in the listener. The results are deeply felt, and the melodies are so beautifully done that the fact that the whole album creeps along at the same, glacial pace scarcely matters. The perfect aural companion for those sleepless nights.
‘Ghost Stories’ (2014)
There is a chilliness to Coldplay’s sixth studio album that many took to be some kind of pretentious reinvention, but in fact was the product of deep catharsis, the result of Chris Martin wrestling through the grief of a divorce by entirely changing the band’s sound. The usual showy guitar and crashing percussion takes a backseat, here building a somewhat robotic world full of synthesisers and drum pads instead, indie rock making way for ambient electronics. It’s a perfect nighttime album because of its whispered, slow intensity – the sort you wind down with, the sort of quiet and curious record that is so sad, so deep, that it only dares out to come out at night when the rest of the world has fallen asleep.
Often unfairly overlooked due to it being released a day before Frank’s legitimate masterpiece ‘Blonde’ – and sure, being only available for a long time as an Apple Music visual album didn’t help – ‘Endless’ is the perfect soundtrack to nodding off. In fact, the album itself feels very much like a vivid fever dream, such is its fragmented, impressionistic quality. 21 tracks in just 45 minutes (some songs not even reaching the 1 minute mark), the record feels like a collection of sketches, a collage of ideas, with songs that drift in, meander, quietly seep into your pores before suddenly escaping from view, like a dream you can’t quite recall.
Luke Morgan Britton
Listen: Apple Music
There’s surely no contest – for the hours spent alone in house and head, it doesn’t come much better than The XX’s 2011 debut. Sparse and atmospheric, the delicate vocal trade of Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim serves multiple purpose – on the right night, the sensual percussion of ‘Crystalised’ could woo any lover, while ’Shelter’ offers a lonely listener some personal safety in sound. And then we have ’Night Time’ itself, the song to launch a thousand ill-advised scrolls through your ex’s social media before deciding that sod it, maybe you will head out to the club after all. Like jump-scare movies or Jägerbombs, The XX are an entity best served after dark.
Thanks to its louche rhythms, laid-back vocals and blues-flavoured licks, Portishead’s debut is considered a chillout classic by many. But mention that to the Bristol rockers in-person and you’ll get a funny look. “When people say that, I find it bizarre,” band member Adrian Utley told the Observer last year, before claiming ‘Dummy’ had more in common with Nirvana. Now, that may be a stretch, but there is a cinematic quality to the album’s post-modern electronica that makes it sound like the soundtrack to a movie set in a smoky nightclub. Grunge classic? No – but this dark, strange record is perfect as the sonic backdrop to your next psychedelic-fuelled midnight jaunt.
Jon Hopkins’ fifth studio album is a thing of wonder. The cinematic record could soundtrack every aspect of night-time life. Opener and title track ‘Singularity’ is a siren call to the dancefloor, while the skittering ‘C O S M’ is the sound of driving through a city in the early hours of the morning – the ethereal ‘Luminous Beings’, meanwhile, is for waking up when it’s still dark, the smell of spring in the air, and the euphoric ‘Feel First Life’ sounds like the first greedy breaths of fresh air after leaving a club and emerging into the outside world. It’s a glorious, hypnotising release – one tailor made for late night and early morning listening.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be leaning on the gilded railings of a juliet balcony right now, overlooking the sprawling rooftops of Paris? Potentially accessorised with a cigarette and some description of silken dressing gown, and the leftover crumbs of a heartily enjoyed croissant? Emerging from semi-lockdown, it sounds like the dream – and often, I find myself sticking on Sebastien Tellier’s slinky 2008 synth-pop record ‘Sexuality’ to conjure up a bit of French discotheque mystique. It’s impossible, in fact, to overstate how very French this record is. Raunchy, near-orgasmic groans punctuate the absolutely NSFW (and probably not suitable for home working, either) ‘Kilometer’ and ‘Pomme’. ‘Sexual Sportswear’ sounds like Kraftwerk’s painstaking machinery having a looser-limbed night off. It’s slinking and sleazy, in the best possible way. Once those opening pulses of opener ‘Roche’ kick into life, I’m right there. My particularly smoggy road is now a spacious, tree-lined boulevard. The partial glimpse of Crystal Palace’s transmitting pylon out the bathroom window? May as well be the Eiffel Tower, hun.