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You Don't Know: Ninja Cuts

You Don't Know: Ninja Cuts

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THE Ninja Tune label (along with its subsidiaries Big Dada and Counter) continues to be at the forefront of cool, independent, funky and urban music. Think Bonobo or Mr Scruff. The Cinematic Orchestra or Roots Manuva. Coldcut or even Kid Koala. DJ Shadow or Blockhead. All are right up there with some of the coolest musical acts on the planet.

You Don’t Know is the latest Ninja Cuts selection – the fifth in a series of classic compilations that straddle the length and breadth of Ninja’s 18 years of existence. And, like its predecessors, it serves as a signpost of both where the label has come from and where it’s heading.

Although there are tracks on this 3CD package dating back as far as 1998 (Mike Ladd’s rare classic Blah Blah), there are also nine unreleased tracks (from some of Ninja’s biggest acts like Mr Scruff and Coldcut), and some from albums that won’t be released until later this year. Throughout, however, one thing is guaranteed: the songs are original, diverse and unlike anything you’re going to hear on most daytime radio stations.

Needless to say, the highlights come thick and fast and cater for a wide variety of tastes. So, while some of the urban, grime-laced material wasn’t for me (such as Roots Manuva’s Seat Yourself), there were other treats, such as Daedelus’ Fair Weather Friends (a long-time IndieLondon favourite) and Pop Levi’s superb, Prince-influenced Dita Dimone).

The Heavy also serve notice of why their album, Great Vengeance & Furious Fire was one of last year’s best-kept secrets. The selected track Coleen is a cool fusion of heavy-hitting funk, brass and falsetto vocals that really do rock your world. When they sing, “do you want that love”, you’ll be screaming out “yes, yes, yes”!

Fink’s Pretty Little Thing is an understated acoustic gem that provides easy appeal to fans of Jose Gonzalez and co, while there’s a breathtaking fragility to the Cinematic Orchestra’s beautiful To Build A Home.

Likewise, Thieves by Max & Harvey is a jazzy, heartbreakingly old-skool piece that finds a nice shuffle and some exquisite female vocals.

Coldcut’s Just For The Kick is another highlight that’s upbeat, urgent and dancefloor friendly, while Death Set’s manic, loopy, punk-rock and funk fusion Around The World is one to savour.

For fans of chillout, there’s also Loka’s Beginningless, Blockhead’s melancholy Sunday Seance and Bonobo’s Hatoa to float away with on an effortless cloud of musical contentment (the latter, especially, a beguiling number).

There are also some surprises, too. Nightlife, by Bonobo and Bajka, has long been a classic cut that’s both soulful and laidback – but it appears on You Don’t Know in a remixed drum ‘n’ bass form that takes some getting used to initially. But it’s a measure of the album’s willingness to mix things up, rather than provide a straightforward greatest hits selection, that keeps you, the listener, on your toes.

That said, there are some misfires and tracks that don’t work at all, such as Spank Rock’s frustratingly blip-heavy and repetitive Bump, Wiley and Chipmunk’s horribly urban and No Qualms. Indeed, the first half of CD2 is probably the worst of the selections, with even DJ Shadow’s Bring Madlib Up emerging like some kind of Fatboy Slim mishap (despite some good scratching technique).

Fortunately, the highlights far outweight the lowpoints, with CDs one and three offering a veritable goldmine of hidden treasures. It’s a worthwhile addition to anyone’s record collection – whether you’ve been a long-time supporter of Ninja Tunes or not. Plus, it could also lead to a wider music appreciation.

Download picks (too many really): Dita Dimone, Donkey Ride, Coleen, Pretty Little Thing, Around The World, Thieves, To Build A Home, Sunday Seance, Atomic Moog, Breathe, Beginningless, Hatoa

Track listing:
Disc: 1

  1. Blazin’ – Poirier, Ghislain
  2. Seat Yourself – Roots Manuva & Ricky Rankin
  3. Nightlife – Bonobo & Bajka
  4. Fair Weather Friends – Daedelus
  5. Donkey Ride – Mr. Scruff
  6. Dita Dimone – Pop Levi
  7. Gadget Funk – Herbaliser
  8. Bump – Spank Rock
  9. Coleen – Heavy (1)
  10. Epistemology Suite 3 Don’t Fall – Diplo
  11. Next Levels – King Geedorah
  12. Pretty Little Thing – Fink
  13. To Build A Home – Cinematic Orchestra
  14. Bloodstone – Tobin, Amon
  15. Evermore – Matthias, John

Disc: 2

  1. Chin High – Roots Manuva
  2. No Qualms – Wiley & Chipmunk/JME/Skepta
  3. Distorted Minds – Hexstatic & Juice Aleem
  4. Drop Audio – Qemists & ID
  5. Brave New World – NMS
  6. Blahblah – Ladd, Mike
  7. Bring Madlib Up – DJ Shadow
  8. Rites Of Spring – Cinematic Orchestra
  9. Thieves – Max & Harvey
  10. Physics Of A Unicycle – Clouddead
  11. Poison Dart – Bug (1)
  12. Just For The Kick – Coldcut
  13. Walk A Mile In My Shoes – Coldcut
  14. Pat Pong – Pest (1)
  15. Travailler – TTC
  16. Around The World – Death Set
  17. Again With The Subtitles – Yppah

Disc: 3

  1. Enter The Newground – DJ Kentaro
  2. Atomic Moog – Coldcut
  3. True Confessions – RJD2
  4. Slew Test 2 – Kid Koala
  5. Free – DJ Kentaro & Spank Rock
  6. Wait A Minute – Ty
  7. Seedpod – Homelife
  8. Fear The Labour – One Self
  9. Breathe – Cinematic Orchestra
  10. Beginningless – Loka
  11. Hatoa – Bonobo
  12. Infinity Of Rhythm – Ammoncontact
  13. Art Of Kissing – Long Lost
  14. Melted Crayons – Fog (1)
  15. Sunday Seance – Blockhead (2)
  16. Swedenborgske Rom – Jaga
  17. Say Goodbye – Bigg Jus