Let’s start with the positives: there are a number of A Closer Listen-friendly artists featured on this compilation. Also, if you are wary of dipping a toe into the Electronic genre as a whole, this CD might – just – fill in a few gaps and provide a few answers. However after that, we are clutching at straws somewhat to justify the existence of Rough Trade Electronic ’11.
It seems to be an album purely to dip into in small doses, which undermines the notion of it being a proper compilation; listening to it in sequence in one sitting is a particularly frustrating experience. For starters, the concept of bringing together numerous diverse genres under the umbrella of ‘electronic’ makes the album unfocussed and confusing. Putting the house-y sounds of Hercules & Love Affair in the vicinity of a collaboration being Pan Sonic and Keiji Heino makes no sense or logic whatsoever; it’s like sticking Chic next to Sunn 0)))) on a compilation entitled Guitar.
If Rough Trade were serious about exploring the extremes of the genre rather than taking some kind of perverse delight in covering both the retro-poppy sounds of Ford & Lopatin to teeth-drill noise of Prurient in one handy set then a double disc set would have made more sense. The majority of electronic music works better when it has a bit more time and space to play with, so rather than two tracks of contemporary house or an all-too-brief diversion into hip-hop, a deeper exploration could have been made with a few more examples – never mind Rough Trade Shops’ persistent blind spot when it comes to R&B. With the extra space of a double disc set, the noisier and more experimental end of the spectrum could have benefitted from longer pieces in a more sympathetic context; are you really going to ‘get’ Prurient in a two minute burst, especially when it sits next to the chilled, retro synth work of Solar Bears?
It is likely that one half of this imaginary double disc set would get more play than the other – but it would definitely get played more often than this single disc mess. I can’t imagine any point in life when one would want to listen to all the tracks in the order they are presented here, never mind risking the lottery of a shuffle play. It’s possible – nay, probable – that people can take pleasure from both Alva Noto and Azari & III but they would make a considered decision when to listen to either, rather than letting someone else make the decision for them. The first Rough Trade Electronic compilation was a bit of a sprawl but most of the contents made sense (even when considering Can’s “I Want More” as an electronic track) – the sequel doesn’t have any logic to it whatsoever, and in attempting to covering the extremes of the genre in one neat package, it satisfies no one.