Various - Ninja Tune XX
One thing you can say about Ninja Tune XX, even this promo version, which is cut down from the six discs you’ll get on the most complete box set release to four, is that it’s a hell of a lot of music to process. And this being Ninja Tune, we’re talking complicated music, not the equivalent of sixty number ones from the last five decades. The label is at pains to point out that, rather than being a retrospective, this 20th anniversary celebration consists mainly of new tracks and remixes, many exclusive to these releases, and, in fact, looks forward. Ninja Tune XX covers all the bases you'd expect from their roster; mainly hip-hop, dubstep and experimental electronica, but also folk, jazz and stuff best described as miscellaneous.
Some tracks sit tantalisingly on the outer edge of pop music. Toddla T’s 'Want U Now' (featuring Ms Dynamite) and Spank Rock’s 'What It Look Like' (Todd Edwards Remix) are smart, sassy R’n’B numbers, full of hooks but perhaps just a little too edgy in their beats to appeal to the masses. Likewise, Emika’s ‘Double Edge’ could be too intense for those who already consider Lady Gaga a bit weird. “You cut me like a double edge sword. Now I’m split in the middle, tell me which side do you pick,” she coldly sings over sparse, twitchy backing.
Given that he’s probably the biggest artist from the Ninja Tune stable (or, to be more precise, from sister label Big Dada), it’s maybe not surprising that Roots Manuva has at least one track per CD, the most enjoyable of which is the funky Slugabed remix of classic 'Witness'. There’s plenty more for progressive hip-hop fans: see also tracks by DELS and Anti-Pop Consortium. Of course, any 2010 compilation delving into bass music requires a fair quota of dubstep, and Ninja Tune XX obliges. Diplo’s 'Summer’s Gonna Hurt You' (Diplo 2010 Remix) gets my vote for best track here. In a similar manner to Burial, he hides a haunting vocal amongst the abrasive urban noise.
It’s not all in-yer-face bass ‘n’ beats. Yppah’s 'Never Mess With Sunday' is reminiscent of Ulrich Schnauss, combining euphoric guitar and shimmering textures to make a gorgeous intstrumental in search of a sunset. Also rather lovely is Andreya Triana’s 'Lost Where I Belong' (Flying Lotus Remix), marrying Triana's honeyed tones to slinky trip-hop production. For those wanting mellow, disc three opens with a slew of more acoustic tracks. Lou Rhodes’ folky voice is given a small orchestral backing for her collaboration with Cinematic Orchestra on 'One Good Thing', while Bonobo sprinkles his jazzy magic over both Speech Debelle and Andreya Triana on 'Sun Will Rise' and 'Wonder When' respectively.
So not a universal stocking filler, but Ninja Tune XX includes an undeniably exciting breadth of music. While there are tracks here few would listen to more than once, only the seriously cloth-eared couldn't pick out some gems. I’m certainly curious as to what the two discs that didn’t make the promotional copy sound like.
Ninja Tune XX will be released in various formats with different track listings and this review should be considered a rough guide only. For more information on the contents, please visit http://www.ninjatunexx.net/.