10 Classic Rough Trade Albums

Rough Trade Records is undoubtedly one of the greatest indie record labels ever; the London imprint being behind an unending host of classic albums. Rough Trade's history is divided into to distinct eras: 1978-1991, when the label was founded as post-punk co-op and grew to become one of England's most adored imprints; and, then, after a period of post-bankruptcy exile, 2001-present, when Rough Trade played a huge part in the latest rise of indie, kickstarted by their first-ever signing, The Strokes. With all apologies to all who issued awesome albums in the second era, it's the first that represents the definitive Rough Trade; and here are its highlights.

01
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Young Marble Giants 'Colossal Youth' (1980)

Young Marble Giants
Nesster/Flick/CC by 2.0
The early bands signed to Rough Trade were, often, experimentally-minded post-punks; a description that applies to Young Marble Giants in theory, but doesn't quite capture their spirit. The Welsh trio applied punk's DIY ideals to an exercise in stark, barely-there reductionism: meting out rudimentary drum-machine clunk, shale-brittle guitar, and elastic bass in precise doses. Amidst this skeletal sound, Alison Statton wandered shyly, speak-singing in a fashion that suggested she'd never once dreamed of being a pop-star. YMG's one-and-only LP, Colossal Youth, was recorded in just three days, and it achieved a particular stylistic perfection —nailing the band's conceived sound so wholly— that has, over time, only grown greater and greater.

02
of 10
The Raincoats 'Odyshape' (1981)

The Raincoats 'Odyshape' (1981)
The Raincoats 'Odyshape' (1981). Rough Trade

The Raincoats' 1979 self-titled debut may've been Rough Trade's first truly great record, but their oft-overlooked second set, Odyshape, is the superior LP. Having started out as scrappy punks who could barely play their instruments, the London girl-group became experimental explorers of spiritual sound on Odyshape, seeking transcendence in odd piano meters, scratchy violin, dub bass, and the silences that stretch between the instruments. It may lack the teenaged joie de vivre of The Raincoats, but Odyshape is an album that has aged elegantly; its intellectual, philosophical, and emotional pursuit of enlightenment and escape the kind of deeply individual journey that never goes out of style.

03
of 10
Television Personalities 'And Don't the Kids Just Love It' (1981)

Television Personalities 'And Don't the Kids Just Love It' (1981)
Television Personalities 'And Don't the Kids Just Love It' (1981). Rough Trade

There was neither a twee scene nor a lo-fi movement when Dan Treacy cut his musical teeth, yet the leader of Television Personalities delivered a debut LP that blazed a trail on both counts. And Don't the Kids Just Love It took punk's DIY approach to a literal extreme —Treacy willfully amateurish in performance, the album audibly recorded on the cheap— whilst, through sensitivity and silliness, undermining punk's masculinity and violence. Rather than denying English pop heritage, he openly drew inspiration from Syd Barrett and The Kinks, especially the latter's fondness for oddball character studies. His flair for silliness and melody won him immediate admirers, but TVP's true legacy is as enduring cult band.

04
of 10
This Heat 'Deceit' (1981)

This Heat 'Deceit' (1981)
This Heat 'Deceit' (1981). Rough Trade

This Heat formed in London in 1976, at the dawning of punk, but they were anything but punks. The trio preferred laborious studio experimentation over playing live, taking influence from a host of sound-science pioneers —krautrock tape-splicers Faust and Can, dub production legend Lee 'Scratch' Perry— as they manipulated and looped magnetic tape, broke guitar parts into angular shards, and favored sinister incantations for vocals. The band's second LP, Deceit, was their masterwork. Recorded in lockdown in a studio housed in a former meat-locker, it's a work of bunker mentality; with a paranoid tenor and its own leaps of perverted logic. Made it the grips of the Cold War's nuclear terror, Deceit is a lacerating, bracing soundtrack to the end of the world.

05
of 10
The Fall 'Perverted by Language' (1983)

The Fall 'Perverted by Language'
The Fall 'Perverted by Language'. Rough Trade
The Fall had an on-again, off-again relationship with Rough Trade in the early-'80s —as they had with most every record label who ever crossed Mark E. Smith's path— and Perverted by Language marked the only LP they made in two separate stints at Rough Trade. It may not measure up to 1982's almighty Hex Enduction Hour, but the seventh Fall album finds the band turning away from the discordance and violence of their earlier albums. Egged on by Smith's new wife Brix, Perverted by Language dares to dabble with melody and tightness, not to mention show sweetness and weakness. Of course, Smith and the label had a falling-out mid-way through its making, and The Fall and Rough Trade parted ways for good.

06
of 10
The Smiths 'The Smiths' (1984)

The Smiths 'The Smiths' (1984)
The Smiths 'The Smiths' (1984). Rough Trade
The Smiths were the band that turned Rough Trade from an indie empire into a major player in British music. The Mancunian quartet were, for many, the definitive English indie band of the '80s, with Johnny Marr's eternally-influential guitar jangle and Morrissey's moaning voice and lyrical witticisms earning a cult following of disenfranchised outsiders that just happened to total in the hundreds of thousands. Though 1986's The Queen Is Dead is the one that sits atop Best-Ever-Album type lists, The Smiths' self-titled debut capturing the band in their purest form: the album's clear, dry sound provide a stark landscape of faded romance and eternal emotional uneasiness.

07
of 10
Arthur Russell 'World of Echo' (1986)

Arthur Russell 'World of Echo' (1986)
Arthur Russell 'World of Echo' (1986). Rough Trade

Given that Arthur Russell was a prickly perfectionist, it seems strange that the only album he released in his way-too-short life —1986's World of Echo— would sound like a collection of unfinished scribblings. In response to the fatigue he felt from laboring, endlessly, at his disco productions, World of Echo finds Russell staging a series of song-sketches than border on meditations; Russell and his cello scraping out sad, strange, swimming half-songs amidst the aqueous sounds of tape-hiss. Barely heard in its day, the record soon fell out-of-print, before being embraced by a new generation of listeners when Russell was reappraised —and hailed a visionary— in the '00s.

08
of 10
Galaxie 500 'On Fire' (1989)

Galaxie 500 'On Fire' (1989)
Galaxie 500 'On Fire' (1989). Rough Trade

A collection of out-of-time romantics obsessed with the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers, and The Feelies, Boston-based trio Galaxie 500 were barely known in their home country when Rough Trade signed them for their 1988 debut, Today. Yet the British press were immediately taken by their sentimental, sad-eyed take on winsome psychedelia, and Galaxie 500 were one of the early Rough Trade era's last great discoveries. Following up Today, the band nailed their masterpiece, On Fire, in which their reverb-dowsed melancholia sounded simultaneously defiant and bashful; their an inescapable sadness in Dean Wareham's every croaky murmur or blasting guitar solo.

09
of 10
Mazzy Star 'She Hangs Brightly' (1990)

Mazzy Star 'She Hangs Brightly'
Mazzy Star 'She Hangs Brightly'. Rough Trade

After working with David Roback's previous band Opal, Rough Trade were the natural home for Mazzy Star, the effective continuation of Opal's narcotic Americana. But where Opal's darkness sometimes bordered on the dreary, Mazzy Star made the same snail's-pace melancholia glitter brilliantly. Their music was big on mood and space —organs hazy, drums brushed, guitars lingering— and this gave vocalist Hope Sandoval space to shine. Sandoval sung her solemn incantations in a doleful voice, whispering every utterance with a drawl equal parts sadness and ennui. Yet, their relationship with the label was ill-fated: Rough Trade would go bankrupt right before Mazzy Star made the million-selling So Tonight That I Might See.

10
of 10
The Sundays 'Reading, Writing and Arithmetic' (1990)

The Sundays 'Reading, Writing & Arithmetic' (1990)
The Sundays 'Reading, Writing & Arithmetic' (1990). Rough Trade
English jangle-pop outfit The Sundays found themselves, not long after the ink had dried on their contract, Rough Trade's biggest bands since The Smiths. Boasting the dreamiest of dream-pop guitars, Harriet Wheeler's impossibly-pure voice, and pop-songs as perfect as "Can't Be Sure" and "Here's Where the Story Ends," The Sunday's debut LP, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, debuted in the UK Top 5. With The Smiths back catalog in their hands and The Sundays proving hugely successful, it seems strange that 1991 found Rough Trade falling into receivership. But that's what happened; the distribution arm of the company bringing down the whole. Thus, Rough Trade's reign as European indie institution came to an end abruptly, providing a taint of tarnish on an otherwise glittering musical legacy.