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V/A - Zen CD & Zen RMX

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Artist: V/A

Album: Zen CD & Zen RMX

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Apr. 19, 2004

Ninja Tune Records has unleashed a number of their classics as well as reworked singles on Zen CD - A Retrospective and its respective counterpart, Zen CD - Remix Retrospective, both double CDs. More than a decade has passed without the label issuing any cohesive aural history lesson - until now. Some things are worth the wait.

You probably know these artists, be it by their names or songs. You've likely been nodding your head to 'em for years at clubs where only the DJs concerned themselves with specifics. They include Kid Koala, Amon Tobin, Cinematic Orchestra, DJ Food, The Herbalizer and DJ Vadim, among others. Vadim lays down some of his clankiest, quirkiest beats for Sarah Jones' FCC-fightin', pro-feminist rant "Your Revolution." Kid Koala fends off road rage on the simultaneously fast-forwarded and lackadaisical "Fender Bender." Sweeping orchestral arrangements in time with lush harps envelop Fontella Bass' gritty vocals as she belts out "All That You Give" by The Cinematic Orchestra. Amon Tobin rides the crash cymbals to glorious, chaotic effect on "Get Your Snack On." It's possible you don't know these songs. But you'll think you do already.

To further jog your memory, try Zen CD - Remix Retrospective. A handful of the songs from Zen CD show up again to convince you of their relevance to the history of electronic music. From Squarepusher's relentless thrashing of The East Flatbush Project's understated "Tried By 12” to Manitoba's furious reworking of "Sweetsmoke" by Mr. Scruff, these already exquisite tracks move up a notch in intensity. Sometimes overkill is a problem, like when Four Tet loses sight of the beauty of Bonobo's "Pick Up" and neglects the original melody. Herbalizer tries reinventing their own tune, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," with an unsuccessful bossa nova approach. The album ends sweetly enough with DJ Food, a Ninja veteran, adding his loveliness to "Mrs. Chombee Takes the Plunge,” a downtempo piano-driven tune.

If you're looking for a solid abstract beats compilation and you've got the funds to drop, Zen CD - A Retrospective is a can’t miss. Remix Retrospective isn’t quite as solid, consisting mostly of reshaped songs that couldn’t make it on their own.

By Emily Huffman

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