Where oh where, for the love of Steinski, to begin? With more than 100 songs spread across six CDs and six 7-inches, packaged in a lovely box including a couple of posters, a book, 20 stickers (?!) and membership to an exclusive singles club, Ninja Tune XX is as generous as it is unwieldy—a highly collectible limited artifact that promises countless hours of electronic-music geekdom for the intrepid explorer. Those looking to get acquainted with the influential UK indie for the first time might start with 2004’s ZEN CD set, a two-disc snapshot of the label’s turntablist roots (Kid Koala, Mr. Scruff, Coldcut) co-mingling with some gainful forays into IDM (Amon Tobin, Luke Vibert). After all, a lot has happened to the global beatscape over the past six years—namely, dubstep. The dank sounds of that digital movement permeate this retrospective (which revisits the distant past almost exclusively through new remixes), demonstrating not only how well Ninja Tune has managed to keep up over the years, but just how deeply its initial trailblazing influenced the DNA of now. Mellow, melodic, and instrumental are the ties that bind most of these tracks, from Daedelus’ gorgeous “LA Nocturn” to Yppah’s folky but propulsive “Never Mess With Sunday” to Kronos Quartet’s acoustic version of Tobin’s glitch-riddled “Foley Versions.” But there are wonderful exceptions, too: Flying Lotus’ sprawling version of “Lost Where I Belong” by soul chanteuse Andreya Triana, Four Tet’s colorful infusion of Antipop Consortium’s wordy boom-bap on “Volcano,” and Autechre’s broken edit of “Skeng” by bass-lover The Bug. One could sit around and play favorites all day. There’s a glut of greatness to choose from, but the biggest credit to Ninja Tune’s vision over the past two decades goes back to its foundation on the wheels of steel. Unlike similar anthologies, 20 Years Of Beats And Pieces plays like an album (the CD portion at least), giving the label exclusive reign over what would surely be one of the greatest raves of all time.
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