The onset of the digital age of music has accentuated the downfall of the mix tape. We’ve lost the cultural importance of those sacred pieces of magnetic strip, passed down from the informed to the less informed, complete with scrawled incantations in Biro on the back giving an indication of the musical education contained within. And that’s just plain sad.
Still, it means that rather than looking unkindly at collections like this as an attempt by a record company to pimp a whole bunch of artists at once, we can reflect in a poignant light. Rough Trade become like that cool kid at school, lending you his copy of the Bizarre Pig Fuckers’ rare first EP on a beaten up C-90.
Handily, Counter Culture 05 has a fine grasp of the fundamentals of mixtapeology: a bunch of tracks that, despite some quite large differences, sequence together strangely well, plus a large sprinkling of total oddities just to demonstrate quite how much more cutting-edge the maker is than you.
Like Nurse With Wound. Or Katzenjammer‘s calypso version of Gary Numan‘s Cars. Or Albert Kuvezin and Yat-Kha: their version of The Chieftains‘ Wild Mountain Thyme sung in a Mongolian throat-sung stylee is the utter highlight of the entire album, and one of the most remarkable things you’ll have heard in a long while.
Elsewhere, surely not much longer unsigned media darlings The Long Blondes stand out, as do perennial purveyors of polka-dotted perfection The Pipettes, with the far, far too brief It Hurts To See You Dance So Well. No doubt the Franz Ferdinand boys will grab most of the headlines, and Erol Alkan‘s aptly named ‘glam racket’ does successfully drag Do You Want To from the free bar at the Transmission party and turns it into My Sharona, as performed by Death From Above 1979.
The problem with Counter Culture 05 is something consistent to all compilations: because it’s someone else’s idea of what good music is, it can seem a little bit patronising. But that’s hardly Rough Trades’ fault, and anyway, it does play out far more like the genuine fan passing on new-finds in an excited fashion than the condescending know-it-all who wants you to think like them.
In the end, it does serve a purpose, and if you’re looking for some coat-tails to grasp on the journey towards the promised land of musical acceptability, these are a pretty safe bet.