Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Various Artists, Counter Culture 06

Rough Trade began as a record store in London in 1976 that specialized in punk and post-punk.  They spawned the Rough Trade Records label in 1978.  The label and record shop became independent cc06business entities in 1981 and both have had their ups and downs since then.  Since 2002 the record label has released a dual CD collection of the best tracks of the year as chosen by the people who work in the shop.  “Counter Culture 06” is last year’s 46 track collection.

As with any “best of the year” listing, “CC 06” reflects the tastes of the people who compiled it.  The Rough Trade staff still favors the post punk that has provided the core of the Shop’s business identity since its inception.  That leads to the inclusion of a track here and there that sounds a bit dated as what may be cutting edge in the somewhat closed world of post-punk diehards comes on like a blast from the past to contemporqry listeners who are not obsessed with the current post-punk scene.  Having said that, “CC 06”, like all of the other “Counter Culture” collections is most notable for the broad range of music it presents.  The staff at Rough Trade has proudly open ears and they go out of their way to tune their listeners in to music they may not have heard from many genres including dance pop, indie rock, alt-country, electronica, guitar pop and more in addition to post punk.

In addition to having open ears, the people who built this collection are serious music geeks and they do a good job of fulfilling the stereotype of mainly being interested in somewhat obscure music.  Snow Patrol wasn’t going to end up on this collection no matter how good a single they released in 2006.  The most well known bands on “CC 06” are Yo La Tengo (“Sometime I Don’t Get You”) and Broken Social Scene (“Fire Eye’d Boy”) both of whom have gone to great lengths to preserve their indie cred.    This is both a strength and weakness of the Counter Culture collections.  On the one hand, they’re a terrific source for music and bands that you may not have heard of; on the other hand, it’s immensly frustrating to find a track you really like only to find it’s only been released as a very limited edition single or EP that very few people outside the band members’ immediate families are likely to have.  The CD booklet lists where the track is available along with a few brief comments by the staff for every track on the collection so you know right away if you just turned on to a song you have almost no hope of finding on disc.

The Rough Trade staff not only have open ears they have good ones.  In almost every one of their collections you’ll find tracks by bands that subsequently attract notice in the music press.  Some examples from “CC 06” include Beirut (“Postcards from Italy”), Peter Bjorn and John (“Young Folks”), Cold War Kids (“We Used to Vacation”) and Tapes ‘n Tapes (“Cowbell”) to name just a few. 

I look forward to the Counter Culture collections every year and not because I tend to really like most of the tracks the Rough Trade staff choose.  Some years are good, some not so much but it doesn’t really matter whether I like a particular Counter Collection or not.  I always find at least some music I like by bands I hadn’t heard of or paid attention to before and even if I don’t care enough about a track to follow up on the band, the music is always interesting; there’s no mass produced, corporate structured, by the numbers music taking up space on these discs.  The Counter Culture collections are an excellent way to find out about music that you may have missed the previous year with the help of people who have listened to more different bands than you probably have and who love this stuff.  If you value open ears, that’s hard to beat.

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10/28/2007 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews

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