Mapping its way through the alternative year
Though we live in an age of playlists, mixtapes and mash-ups, Rough Trade’s ‘Counter Culture 11’ proves that a well-made, old-fashioned compilation can still shine new light on songs you thought you knew. The 42 tracks on the label’s annual mix of the preceding year’s customer favourites and staff recommendations forge intriguing factions when approached as a snapshot of alternative music in 2011.
As any lovelorn mixtape-maker knows, the beauty is all in the assembly. Fife’s King Creosote invokes wilful inertia on disc one with the lovely ‘Bats In The Attic’, which resonates through the looping guitar lines of Kurt Vile’s ‘Peeping Tomboy’. Highlights include The History Of Apple Pie’s lilting, jangly ‘You’re So Cool’ and the transclucent trip-hop of Little Dragon’s ‘Ritual Union’, but there are curveballs too. ‘Bowlface En Provence’, by Mara Carlyle, has a roomy Latin feel, her vintage vocals gleaming in between lumpen acoustic plodders by The Head And The Heart and The Decemberists.
Largely rooted in traditional songwriting, disc one takes a late turn into electronic sounds, with SBTRKT’s garage-resurrecting ‘Wildfire’ and Glasgow’s Koreless, who strips dubstep of its grit with airy, marching synths. Disc two is a more disorientating, abrasive listen. But in the post-industrial electronics of London’s Factory Floor, the cold, lusty mechanics of Azari & III and the intense bass of VCMG’s ‘Spock’, there’s the strange sense of a shared DNA.
Hip-hop is glaringly notable by its absence – Death Grips or Shabazz Palaces would fit perfectly here – but all the same, there’s a magic in the way that disparate songs, burnt onto plastic, can present such a thrilling, united front.