Various Artists: Ninja Tune XX
Back in 1990, London electronic duo Coldcut started a label called Ninja Tune. Since that time Ninja Tune has released music by some of the world’s biggest electronic artists including but not limited to The Bug, Blockhead, Daedelus, The Herbaliser, Kid Koala, The Qemists, and Spank Rock. To celebrate their twentieth anniversary, the label is releasing Ninja Tune XX a 4-CD compilation of new music, remixes, and exclusives.
From a critical stand point, it is very daunting to have a four CD set sitting on your desk needing to be reviewed but from a fan stand point, it is exciting. Ninja Tune has been one of the premier indie record labels of the last 20 years and their artists are really second to none. Popping in the first disc, I was excited to listen to the unreleased Roots Manuva track, “It’s On”. The track mixes Roots Jamaican-dancehall-meets-grime style with a hot electronic dance beat. Despite being my most anticipated track on disc one and not disappointing, the track is not the highlight of disc one.
For me, the highlight was Mike Ladd‘s Big Dada Sound “Signs”. Mike Ladd started Big Dada Sound to celebrate Ninja Tunes 10th anniversary so it is fitting they would record another song for the 20th anniversary. The track flawless mixes experimental hip hop, grime, and electronica. It really embodies what the Big Dada imprint label is all about.
Of course with the good must come the bad. I was looking forward to hear dubstep maestro Zomby‘s track “The Forest”. The track’s excellent erratic drums are betrayed by lackluster keyboards. Not what I expected from a big name like Zomby.
The second disc trumps what disc one does in almost every way. The second disc contains two remixes by superstar Diplo but my favorite track on the second disc is dubstep producer, Joker‘s remix of The Heavy‘s biggest hit, “How You Like Me Now?” Joker gives the track that definitive understated dubstep feel, the complete opposite of the original’s Screamin’ Jay Hawkins schtick.
The third disc has a little different feel to it. There are a lot more acousticy and jazz influenced tracks on it. Floating Points Ensemble‘s “Post Suite” is a funky jazz track complete with lush strings and smooth John Medeski-style keyboards. Two tracks from Andreya Triana add to the jazzy feel. “Wonder When” is a collaboration between her and British producer Bonobo. The collaboration has a Combustible Edison bossa nova lounge feel to it.
I was underwhelmed with the jazzy feel of disc three. My favorite track on the disc was the not-jazzy-at-all “$64K Rainbow” by Cougar. The track actually reminds me of Ratatat with its instrumental nature and similar keyboard/guitar harmonic sound.
Where disc three indulges in a more mellow sound, disc four goes completely experimental. While Ninja Tune is hardly the most commercial friendly label out there to begin with, it is like every hard to deal with track they had they stuck on disc four. Disc four features tracks by artists like The Bug, Daedelus, and Four Tet. My favorite track on the disc and by the most accessible track is Hot Chip‘s remix of Roots Manuva’s “Let the Spirit”. Hot Chip put their synthpop spin on Roots Manuva’s unique Jamaican influenced flow. The track might be the most commercially viable tune on the entire compilation.
Overall, it is hard to judge a compilation this massive. There are so many big name artists spanned over these four CDs that to give it a bad review seems like a travesty but as a percentage of good songs to mediocre or bad songs, the percentage is not so good. The album has plenty of very strong moments, enough strong moments to make a solid 20 song CD or so but as a 80+ song four CD set…it is mediocre.
MP3: The Heavy “How You Like Me Now? (Joker Remix Radio Edit)”
Buy: iTunes or Insound!
Various Artists: Ninja Tune XX