Album Reviews

Rough Trade Shops – Counter Culture 06

UK release date: 29 January 2007

Details first. Rough Trade is more than just a record shop. Its all-styles-welcome trading policy has made it an integral part of the British music scene for over 30 years. It remains a vital portal between adventurous musicians and the streetwise punter looking for the next big cultish thing.

It’s new year Counter Culture compilations are now as familiar as a warm January. If a purpose may be divined, Counter Culture serves as a pointer to some things you may have missed on the off chance that you don’t have all the time and money in the world to spend in a record shop.

Hand-picked by the shop’s curators, the music of these compilations attempt to stay true to the spirit of Punk, the movement that officially sparked into life at the same time, and in the same city, as the shop itself.

Roughly speaking, in case there’s anyone out there reading this site who’s just come down from the hills, that means the prizing of an adversarial DIY-ethos and the principle of diversity of its post-punk offspring.

Unfortunately citing the spirit of Punk has also come to mean an endless treadmill of bands sounding depressingly just like bands from that verdant period, with little fresh to bring to the party.

Counter Culture 06 has a fair bit of the former and definitely too much of the latter.

What it does brilliantly is confront the contradictions of one’s taste. For example, I can more than warm to Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan‘s straighter take on Nancy and Lee, but can’t abide the bore-grunge of Treecreeper. If old hats are being handed out in the new year honours, Treecreeper are a shoe-in. Someone should tell Queen Liz.

In a similar way, Hush Arbours‘ Bones Of A Thousand Suns is a treat, sounding as it does like Arthur Russell‘s world of echo bouncing off the walls of Warhol’s Factory. Yet contrast with The Rotters‘ Japanese Punk and its evocation of X-Ray Spex and I guess one man’s exotic emulation is another’s tiresome rip-off.

Oddball stuff like The Sound Of American Doomsday Cults and OOIOO easily reach boiling point on the eclectic-o-meter, but they’re counterweighted by much more temperate material.

The problem is with the whizz-bang one-off guitar-punkers is that given the two-or-three minute thrill of a 7-inch single their effect might(!) be electric, but piled up next to each other, the colour bleeds from most.

The New Moscow is much like the old Moscow, formulaic and deeply conservative despite its revolutionary pretensions. Bricolage sound like a bunch of borrowed ideas that they should really give back to their original owners. And on this evidence, The Broken Social Scene have got a lot of making-up to do before being accepted back in to impolite society.

What Counter Culture doesn’t resist is giving full props to those already given a leg-up by the shop. London’s own Lily Allen, Searcy’s The Gossip and Beirut (not from the Lebanon) are welcome inclusions certainly, but that doesn’t prevent an atmosphere of I-told-you-so.

There are, as you’d expect, some shiny attractions in the shop window. In addition to those mentioned above, Cold War Kids, Nagasi Yoki and Justin Simon, Uffle and Various Productions all merit further investigation.

It has to be said that placed next to the simultaneously available Counter Culture 1976, the 2006 incarnation pales in comparison.

But then hindsight is, like Kid Creole, a wonderful thing baby. Yet if the likes of Winterkids and Ripchord were amongst the best on offer in 2006, then 2007 can’t help but be an improvement.

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