Various Artists - Rough Trade Counter Culture 09

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2010-02-15

A tradition stretching back to 2002, Rough Trade's annual collection of the great, good and slightly odd from the last 12 months is always worth your time. In part, it confirms your cool status by featuring selections from bands and artists who made up your personal best of the year list. On the other hand, these compilations also provide a handy catch up on the acts you should've checked out last year but somehow missed. However, it's an established fact that any compilation of this type will be a bit of a mixed bag. Basically, it's a Now… compilation for Pitchfork and NME readers.

So among established and familiar names like The xx, The Horrors, The Drums and Super Furry Animals there's also a healthy crop of the less well known, particularly on the folkier first half disc one. Here, your tolerance levels for whimsy and acoustic twang will be tested. The pretentous whining of 'Fortune Teller' by Forest Fires and the insubstantial Byrdsian head shake of Django Django's 'Storm' make for an inauspicious start, while 'Sad Sad Feet' by Cate le Bon is just The Velvet Underground's 'Pale Blue Eyes' sung by a shonky Nico impersonator. Elsewhere, however, things are better: the tribal tumble and echoing vocal of 'Apply' by Glasser is captivating stuff. On the dancier end of the disc, '15 to 20' by Phenomenal Hand Clap Band is good, if unmemorable, fun, as is Mariachi El Brox's 'My Brother the Gun'. But be warned - the cringeworthy Beach Boys parody that is 'Hey Boy' by Magic Kids is best avoided.

Let's move on to disc two, which kicks off with 'Surfin' UAE', a belly dance-meets-Shadows instrumental by Rick Tomlinson which could be straight off a Tarantino film soundtrack. This is the more 'indie rock' of the two discs, as shown by The Horrors' Psychedelic Furs/My Bloody Valentine hybrid, 'Whole New Way', The Drum's whistle-tastic 'Let's Go Surfing' and Pissed Jeans' almighty hardcore tantrum on the brilliantly titled 'Human Upskirt'. It's also great to see Micachu and Shapes' skiffley 'Lips' find a place in the tracklisting. With instant classics like this, what underachieving pish like 'Answer to Yourself' by The Soft Pack and 'Steadycam' by The Dutch Uncles is doing making up the numbers is anyone's guess. And Crocodiles get Soundblab's Most Pointless Exercise in Sounding Like The Jesus and Mary Chain Award. Sell it on eBay, lads, and use the money to buy a clue.

You'll also find the more esoteric and electro-tuned sounds on this disc: the synthetic churn of Fever Ray's 'If I Had a Heart'; the archaic, degraded plinky-plonk of Zomby's 'Kaliko'; the malfunctioning dubstep of 'Chatty Mouth' by Hyper Black Bass. Meanwhile, Mos Def manages to rip off Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies' while still sounding impeccably cool and Tiga scores another almost-interesting synth-pop curio in the form of 'Shoes'.

So there you have it: a bit of a pick'n'mix, a bit all over the place, but somehow still kind of essential. Isn't that Rough Trade all over?

Richard Morris

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