Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the dopest one of all? “What the fuck are you asking me for?! You’ve got that Xen Cuts comp playing right now! Figger it out yerself!” Ah, advice well taken. Xen Cuts is a comp that celebrates ten years of Ninja Tune, a label bringing you jazzy, blunted-out beats, hip-hop, turntablism and the space between. It’s made of two CDs of unreleased materials and singles, plus a third disc of tracks, “missed, flipped, and skipped.”
The first disc focuses on the hip-hop side of Ninja Tune. All of the tracks here stay far, far away from the sterility of Swizz Beatz and minimalism of Timbaland. The Quannum MC’s, DJ Vadim with Sarah Jones, the Infesticons, and co. fill tracks and tracks of warm beats, breaks, and ill jazz atmospheres. It’s what I always loved about hip-hop: that cut-up, deterritorialized swagger; heady, but not ponderous. Amon Tobin’s track is so very distinctive; he’s taking an increasingly jazzy route, but gives it volume and density that you’d rarely see outside of soundtracks.
The second disc goes farther into the sound we’ve commonly associated with Ninja Tune, the warm electronic jazziness. Vocals are decidedly less prominent than on the first, and here, the beats reign supreme. Amon Tobin is the common element among all three discs, and with good reason — his beats are the biggest, and his sound is so rich, so full. Animals On Wheels’ “Build a Church With Your Fear” is more simplistic, but the organ adds the perfect, understated melodic touch. I’m not sure about the copious amounts of surface noise that runs through this comp, but then again, it’s nice to see that they haven’t tried to cover up all of the seams. The common ground of beats, soul and jazz is more thoroughly mined here, but unfortunately, sometimes the mix drifts farther to the side of “fusion” than I’d like to go, namely Clifford Gilberto’s “The 10th Victim.” Superlative for this third of the comp: Most Likely to Be Featured in A Neo-Blaxploitation Picture.
“Missed, Flipped and Skipped” would be the token “unreleased and rare” section on a lesser compilation. Here, the standard is up there with the rest of the compilation. Highlights are a live set by Kid Koala, where he scratches alongside a bop number. I think the scratching was in tune, too. Wow. That, and the Squarepusher remix of the East Flatbush Project’s “Tried By 12.” Yes, it’s uncharacteristic, but it’s also a great version of the tune. Xen Cuts signals ten years of Ninja Tune. Here’s to another ten great enough to spawn a compilation equal to this one.