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Rough Trade - Counter Culture 2008 Box set
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Surfing the Zeitgeist in left-field indie music and beyond since 2002, Rough Trade's excellent Counter Culture series claims to regularly 'champion artists who have since gone on to wider success'. More realistically, this retrospective (and by definition not-quite cutting edge) collection is best described as a highly entertaining resume of the best things praised by the likes of NME and Pitchfork over the last 12 months. There are even a few items that were available in 2007. No matter, both discs offer intriguing and well-sequenced overviews of recent trends in alternative music.
As a cornucopia of psych folk, lo-fi psychedelia and understated electronica, Disc One is by far the gentler of the two. The prevalence of dreamy vocal harmonies and pastoral, acoustic textures is testimony to the massive success (if not necessarily direct influence) of Fleet Foxes - hardly an underground band these days. The falsetto vocals of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the charmingly Neil Young-ish The Low Anthem seem cut from a similar cloth. And while a whole disc of Peter Broderick's breathless musings may have proved excessive, Below It was one of the most memorable cuts on his Home album.
The dominance of US and UK bands is broken up by Spain's El Guincho, whose 'space age exotica' sits surprisingly well next to Fleet Foxes' White Winter Hymnal. There's also a decent uota of female voices, including the earnest, near-a cappella of The Acorn, the charming retro folk pop of Headless Heroes' cover The North Wind Blew South and the reverb-drenched garage pop of Vivian Girls.
Other highlights include the space rock meanderings of Atlas Sound (Deerhunter fans, take note!) Brooklyn's Flying Nun-inspired Crystal Stilts and the twitchy, deep fried experimentalism of High Places.
Things get decidedly more rowdy and 'urban' on Disc Two, which focuses mainly on recent variants on noise rock, grime, hip hop, electro and dubstep. Japan's intense and thrashy hardcore hybrids Boris are hilarious.
New Times Viking seem intent on ripping off Velvet Underground bootlegs on My Head. Scotland's vibrant rock scene is represented by the deadpan bubblegum pop of Correcto's Joni and nugazers The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, who though American, pay heavy tribute to JAMC, Teenage Fanclub, The
Pastels et al.
Vintage synths and contemporary beats begin to dominate from Indian Jewelry onwards. Shit And Shine's metronomic Shit No! sounds like The Clangers lost in an industrial drug haze and Opium Factory's Rainbeaux continues the weirdness with a sinister revisitation of Talking Head's Once In A Lifetime.
Alva Noto's U_08 1 has a Kraftwerk-goes-to-Paris vibe, and 2562 offers a less retro Eurotechno/dubstep feel. Finally, if the electro hip-hop of Yo Majesty is preferable to the repetitive postcode war belligerence of The Bits ft. Trim, there's always the skip button! --Jon Lusk
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Top Customer Reviews
If you're not already familiar with the format it goes something like this; two CDs, each with twenty plus tracks, rounding up a selection of the year's most interesting releases, as chosen by the staff in London's Rough Trade stores. Over recent years the format seems to have settled into CD1 featuring the quieter tracks, whilst CD2 includes the more banging selections. For me they serve two purposes; a reminder of all the things I meant to purchase during the last year and never got around to and also to highlight a few gems that I may have missed.
So this year's selections includes contributions from the widely acclaimed; Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, those on the edge of big things; Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls (I hope) and those who will always be overlooked by the mainstream; Softboiled Eggies anyone? And whilst Rough Trade may be regarded as an `indie' label, the Counter Culture selection is genuinely eclectic, taking in hip-hop (Rustie, Yo! Majesty), dubstep (2562's haunting Kameleon), metal (Boris) and folk (The Acorn). You also get comprehensive liner-notes and release details for each track, written with genuine passion, warmth and wit.
So if you're looking for a round-up of many of 2008's more interesting, original or just plain off-the-wall releases this compilation represents an excellent investment. It's a pity that Rough Trade's equally interesting genre based compilations (Post Punk, Electronica etc.) seem to have ended; it would be good to see them return in 2009.