Aged to Perfection, Kinda
With a score of musicians who specialize in modern experimental, cutting edge, and often jazzy beats, Ninja Tune XX is a label two decades in the making. Ninja Tune has always been at the frontier of the music industry, showcasing artists who aren’t afraid to try something new. This expansive 4 disc boxed set, Twenty Years of Beats and Pieces, includes 57 of the best tunes produced under this label in the last two decades in addition to many new and previously unreleased songs from artists like Daedelus, Spank Rock, Hex, Bonobo, Coldcut and remixes from friends like Flying Lotus and Hot Chip. With so much content, how could you go wrong?
The guys at Ninja Tune knew what they were doing when they made Two Fingers the epic introduction for this album, starting things off on the first disc. “Fools Rhythm” exercises a bass-heavy drum kick and clap leading up to a harmonic synth drone that is all over the place. Toddla T’s “Want U Now” (featuring Ms. Dynamite) kicks the dancability up a notch with this Latin beat-inspired track, which has been very much in vogue as of late. The Dells’ “Eating Clouds” pairs jazzy electronic beats with melodic rap lyrics that loop, echo, glitch and repeat, all making for a very artfully done tune. “Lost Where I Belong” is an impressive track by Andreya Triana and remixed in the iconic Flying Lotus style of jazzy downtempo snare and kicks accompanied by dreamy vocals. An acoustic rhythm guitar leads the very Postal Service-esque “LA Nocturne” by Daedelus, an acclaimed track that fittingly concludes the first disc of the set; but we’re only getting started.
The second disc features impressive dub and dubstep with a heavy electronic, synthesized focus on the first two tracks, “Dub Styles” by Roots Manuva (Micachu’s M.A.T.H.E.S. Remix) and “Summer’s Gonna Hurt You” by Diplo (the 2010 Remix). A similar bass wobble continues on The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now?” (Joker Remix) that utilizes the slower tempo, chill dubstep instead of the popular drum and bass, speed freak style. This second disc is much better put together than the sporadic shuffle of the first CD; all tracks fit a certain theme here. The second disc gains some momentum disc with faster songs like Todd Edwards’s Remix of Spank Rock’s “What it Look Like,” which puts a fresh beat into a song that was good to begin with. Amon Tobin brings the energy back down to conclude the second CD with “Lost & Found” and his dubstep-gone-slow-mo ambient track.
Lou Rhodes collaborates with the New York Cinematic Orchestra to usher in a melodramatic, emotional string piece on “One Good Thing,” opening the third disc of the set. This segues nicely into Bonobo and Speech Debelle’s “Sun Will Rise,” which uses powerful saxophone, acoustic guitar, and Debelle’s emotional rapping to create a rich melody. A few songs in and the motif of this CD becomes apparent; the vocally oriented songs here rely heavily on the diverse backing instruments including horns, strings, piano, percussion and only a minimal amount of synthetic electronics. “I Hear the Drummer” is an upbeat track that is all over the place. Produced by Quincy and Xen Cuts Allstars, the song includes many voice samples and often switches the tempo around, making for an interesting experimental cut. Cougar breaks the orchestra imagery with “$64K Rainbow” and their grinding, distorted guitars and squeaky synth play. From here on out, the songs get a little grittier, drum driven, with an industrial sounding veneer before Floating Points Ensemble closes out the CD with an abrupt, downtempo melodic track, “Post Suite,” that has a hint of jazz bass.
The fourth and final CD in the box set begins with Eskamon’s jazzy glitch-hop “Fine Objects”, offering a taste of experimental beats. The trip-hop beats are a bit more pronounced on this CD with songs like Emika’s “Drop the Other,” remixed by Daedelus, whose chillout vocals nicely compliment the heavy snare and drum kicks. Like a lot of songs here, Four Tet’s remix of Anti-Pop Consortium’s “Volcano” gets off to a slow start with over a minute of repetitive keys before a back beat finally kicks in and we hear some deft rapping. The Death Set’s “Impossible” (remixed by Shuttle) starts with a synth drone and highly distorted vocals before a spacey, rhythm synth line pops its head in until the drone returns, as do the hardly audible vocals, all making for a lucidly appealing remix. Winding things up is Shuffle’s “Tunnel,” another slow starter with dubstep wobble and drumming, closing this monumental box set with a crescendoing fadeout.
This series of songs plays more like a “Greatest Hits” album than a seamless mix of continuous music. The layout is a bit random and can go from upbeat dance track to downtempo chill beats and back again quite a bit. Admittedly a lot of songs in this set feel like filler tracks that musicians just couldn’t fit anywhere else, but there are also real unreleased gems here as well. Spanning from the chill downtempo, to alternative trip-hop, to experimental nu-jazz, and event glitchy dubstep, if you’ve never heard of Ninja Tune, there is a good chance of finding at least a couple songs you’ll like here. However, for the Ninja Tune enthusiast, this is a must have.