Album Review: Ninja Tune XX (Ninja Tune)

 

 

For two decades now, the independent record label Ninja Tune has been steadily pushing the boundaries of electronic-based music, led by the Matt Black and Jonathan More, the two gents responsible for the politico-electronica outfit Coldcut. With their keen ears constantly perked, this imprint has since been aligned with a fairly impressive roster of talent from around the world, either releasing their albums or singles, grabbing songs for compilations, or hiring them as remixers.

To celebrate their 20th anniversary, the label has put together this box set, a sprawling and beautiful objet d'art. It comes with six full-length CDs, six 7" singles, a 192-page hardback book that covers the brilliant graphic design work done for the label, and the potential to grab a pair of 12" singles featuring exclusive tracks and remixes. And, true to their striving form, this set isn't simply a rehashing of Ninja Tune's most recognized tracks. Some of those do make appearances (Coldcut's "Timber", The Bug's "Skeng", and The Heavy's "How You Like Me Now?") but in radically remixed form. No, almost everything else here is either exclusive to the set or a previously released track turned inside out by a widely-recognized talent.

All the driving modes of electronic music are represented. Dubstep icons Joker (who turns the muscular neo-soul outfit The Heavy into a space age battalion) and Toddla T show up to swell the low end to eardrum wowing levels. Roots Manuva's husky rapping shows up throughout the set, alongside other vaunted hip-hoppers EL-P, DJ Vadim, and Kid Koala. And the label's experimental roots glare out in the hands of the Kronos Quartet who reinterpret Amon Tobin's "Foley Variations" as a springy bit of modern classical.

That last track is a prime example of the reverence so many of the artists tapped to guest on this set obviously have for Ninja Tune. They push themselves amazingly hard to do justice to the tracks they are remixing. Hot Chip adds their giddy disco bounce to Roots Manuva's "Let The Spirit" as a way to play of the song's reverent tone while still allowing the central message to glare out. Too, L.A.-based Gaslamp Killer plays fast and loose with DJ Vadim's "The Terrorist" by tossing a thick sheen of sonic glaze on it, thereby easing it into the world of modern hip-hop productions.

It's an exhaustive collection, but an exhausting one as well, best taken in small one-disc doses. But it is one that is worthy of a record label that has managed to stay independent in a marketplace and an industry that has grown to look askance at that line of thinking. It is as lovingly crafted and full of amazing work as almost everything Ninja Tune has done since arriving in the world in 1990. And it should leave you breathlessly anticipating what the next 20 years holds for this label and the electronic music world.

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