VA: You Don't Know
Ninja Cuts

As in you might think you know everything about Ninja Tune but you really don't—a lack the label (and associated imprints Big Dada and Counter) addresses with this almost absurdly comprehensive three CD collection (the fifth installment, in fact, in a compilation series). It's hard to imagine that by the end of it any conceivable label-related blanks won't have been filled in by this remarkably diverse mix of album tracks, new tunes, and remixes that encompasses dubstep, jungle, hip-hop, grime, sampledelica, funk, pop, dancehall, post-rock, and folk.

A fairly clear trajectory declares itself, with disc one a stylistic smorgasbord, disc two strongly centered on aggressive hip-hop, and disc three focused on sophisticated jazz-inflected material. Notable moments: Modeselektor gives Ghislain Poirier's “Blazin'” a blistering dubstep makeover, and The Bug and Warrior Queen start dancehall-dubstep fire in “Poison Dart.” Even in a shortened radio version, The Cinematic Orchestra's ballad “To Build a Home” soars, while Fontella Bass's singing becomes phantom-like in Susumu Yokota's stark overhaul of “Breathe”; then group also shows off its tougher side in the new track “Rites of Spring” recorded live at the Barbican in London with sax and orchestral strings paired with lurching head-nodding rhythms. Coldcut appears three times, with Tiga's deep house mix of “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” the most memorable, and, supplementing his raucous party romp “Fair Weather Friends,” Mad Hatter Daedelus squeezes in a folk track under the alias The Long Lost (“The Art of Kissing”). Even if you're not fluent in French, you'll still feel the bleepy hiphop swing of TTC's “Travailler,” and the jubilant house vibe of Pest 's “Pat Pong” is likewise hard to resist. Also strong: Loka's dramatic jazz-hip-hop flow (“Beginningless”), Ammoncontact's tasty hip-hop funk (“Infinity of Rhythm Instrumental”), and Jaga's quietly majestic tone poem (“Swedenborgske Rom”).

There are contributions from Kid Koala, Ty, Bonobo, Blockhead, Wiley, Roots Manuva (the space-burn head-nodder “Seat Yourself”), DJ Kentaro (“Free,” a wailing collaboration with Spank Rock), RJD2 (a portentous “True Confessions”), The Heavy (the heavy falsetto funk of “Coleen”), Amon Tobin (the malevolent cinematic ambiance of “Bloodstone”), Pop Levi (the handclapping pop-funk of “Dita Dimoné”), Hexstatic (zero DB's bleepy dance-funk re-rub of “Distorted Minds”), Diplo (the slinky boom-bap of “Epistemology Suite 3: Don't Fall”), The Herbaliser (the Prince-meets-George Clinton funkadelica of “Gadget Funk”), and others.

Given the release's magnitude, it might have been wise to edit some of the longer tracks (a few minutes could have been shaved from Bonobo's “Nightlite” and Spank Rock's “Bump,” each of them over seven minutes long), and the panoramic breadth probably means the average listener won't love everything (a single exposure to “Drop Audio” by The Qemists is enough for me). With fifty cuts included, to call the set overwhelming isn't an exaggeration but for Ninja Tune devotees, at least, this set is pretty much required listening.

April 2008