By Various Artists
Every year since 2003 there's been a Counter Culture - or at least, a Counter Culture that's been documented by Rough Trade on a Counter Culture compilation. As far as compilations go, the impetus behind this one seems quite nifty: compiling a retrospective on the previous year comprising the peaks of avant-garde, ground-breaking or just madcap for the sake of it.
Largely, the compilation achieves what it set out to do, wall-to-wall with tracks that range from true-to-form quirky indie to unabashed 'mad scientist' eccentricity, and a few pit-stops in between. The box it doesn't tick, though, is consistency. The selection of tracks swings from being an inspired harvest of pop gems to an inexcusable glimpse of psychosis - essentially, short but not always so sweet. Two cases in point: the opener, The Woods' contribution "Be Still", tricks you into thinking the rest will be this good, that the rest will have such an appealing aesthetic, such a fantastically thick texture and such charismatic, soft-spoken vocals. "Losin' Time" from the Wooden Shjips goes by largely unnoticed, and then you are confronted with Peggy Sue and the Pirates' current single "Television", best described as an aural assualt of caterwauling, generally grating vocal styles from the duo. It's catchy, of course, but that may not be a good thing when you would rather have a more musical vocal-line going around your head. Only saved from unremitting condemnation because of a gritty, attitude-filled line on the double-bass.
If enough time is spent rummaging about, there are a few shimmery moments to be found. Arthur & Yu's track, "The Ghost of Old Bull Lee", has some very nice turns of phrase in the lyrics - look out for "Don't need to be part of a scene / To cause a scene..." and its incongruously wide-eyed delivery - and a fluffy musical ostinato on the stereotypically childish glock. Some swashbucklers with a different leader, Pete and the Pirates, hit a remarkably better note than our first motley crew of buccaneers with "Come on Feet", which is a very well crafted up-beat number. Elsewhere, there's not much to write home about in terms of instrumental parts, but both Dan le Sac Versus Scroobius Pip and Julian Cope seem to have had some fun with their sharp critiques of modern society and its various foibles.
Ranging further still, there's a bit of a barren wasteland; Mika Miko's "Jogging Song" falls prey to the same traps as Peggy Sue and the Pirates, while others tumble down the vortex of indistinguishable electro fuzz (see Dan Deacon's input for a perfect example).
I'm sure there's at least one track on here for everyone and anyone, but similarly there will be hated ones in equal measures. Besides, Peggy Sue and the Pirates sound rather like Kate Nash's voice plastered on the front of a slightly different musical project, and apparently they've even supported her on tour - what's so counter-cultural about that?