Various Artists: Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1

Various Artists
Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1
Mute UK

The day after John Peel's death, I discovered the British audio-blog Keeping C86 Alive (, dedicated to both the ragged pop bands immortalized on NME's 1986 cassette--Primal Scream, the Wedding Present, and My Bloody Valentine, among them--and a handful of new Peel favorites feeling their influence. C86ers were fans' bands; few would achieve anything of renown, but to the devoted, their one-inch pins and stickers were symbols of allegiance. The hastily recorded single on a start-up label or zine flexi could be given prime placement on that special mix-tape for a special someone. And so Rough Trade Shops, with its extensive Xerox liner notes full of fanzine-like band testimonials, presents its perfect compilation as a love letter to a scene so infatuated with adolescence.

The lovesickness in the Clouds' John Charnley is so palpable when he dreamily moans, "Why do I always feel this way?" ("Get Out of My Dream") that you think he's halfway to study hall before the Popguns' "Waiting for the Winter" charges out of the starting gate with a rambling guitar solo--a signature of Rough Trade pop. Vocalist Wendy Morgan wails with ice princess assurance that she never wants to see her lover again. Morgan and Charnley could very well be talking about each other, waiting until they run into each other at the next Talulah Gosh show to figure things out. Gosh were the Shangri-Las of post-punk, built around the shy journal confessions of Amelia Fletcher; and Fletcher's pale flame can be seen in Dressy Bessy's Tammy Ealom (one of a few Americans to make an appearance here). With added sugar, the fuzzbox guitar-work on "You Stand Here" makes Ealom indie pop's Strawberry Shortcake.

Rough Trade doodles a fine line between old favorites and current acts who've reaped the benefits by self-releasing singles and starting labels. K Records and Beat Happening's cardboard-box recordings are included here, both headed by Calvin Johnson, who takes notes from the Pastels' self-taught fumbling, and the Pooh Sticks' hazy, nasal delivery and jingling tambourine. Proto-Franz Ferdinand group Josef K., with its salt-shaker bass lines on "Sorry for Laughing," represent the male dandy end of the spectrum, where boys pick up instruments instead of footballs. Some songs, like the Monochrome Set's self-titled track, are more jagged--skeletal enough to join the post-punk class of '79, but spry enough to fit between blue-eyed folk sweetheart Mary Lou Lord and Echo and the Bunnymen-doppelgängers Felt.

With their high-end jangle and vocalist Clint Mansell, Pop Will Eat Itself rasps like a lost Psychedelic Furs single, making dissonance clear as water on "The Black Country Chainstore Massacreee." But it's Nouveau Scottish pop group Camera Obscura who sum up the post-adolescent pop confessional with one lyric: "You say your love will be the death of you." The title of the song? "Eighties Fan."

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