Global Underground--Afterhours (2007): This 3-disc set is a quite eclectic mix, as befits afterhours music: all the stuff that's too good not to play, but too offbeat for hoi polloi, right? The first disc is titled "Organic", and tends towards downtempo and dub; so far, my favorite track is Sinner DC's Born to be Mild, which has very spacey vocal and organ effects going on in front of the chilled rhythm. Some of the stuff on here, like Morgan Geist's Skyblue Pink, could as easily show up in a New Age compilation, and that's not a bad thing. Sadly, I'll have to bring it back to get repaired: the foil is OK, but there's something on the disc surface that isn't cleaning up well. The second disc is titled "Electronic," and has a slightly more pop sound. Still spacey and chilled, but some of these would make great intros for a trance set, for example. Some tracks are upbeat, but overall, it still has a downtempo flavor. There are some old tracks snuck into this one: Charlie's Space Woman is electropop from '83, and Supernature by Cerrone is a new age-influenced disco track from 1977! (New age-influenced disco? Just check out the title, for starters!) The third disc is unmixed, and is titled "The Future"; this is where stuff that's even further off the map ended up. (Kind of a bonus disc for a set that feels like a bonus collection.) Lots of new stuff I've never heard, which is a big, big plus in a compliation like this. GU is probably the best place to look for cutting-edge (but not bleeding-edge) sound, unless you have access to exclusive and advance releases. Sadly, instead of their usual overpackaging, they went minimalist with this release, putting the discs into crummy cardboard sleeves glued shut at one end. These things are awful for scratching the discs, and I suspect the adhesive may be the gunk on the edge of disc 1.
John Digweed--Fabric 20 (2004): Digweed pushes the limits, looking for unusual things to turn into a nominally trance mix. Lots of excursions from what one would usually expect from a DJ mix CD here, ranging from electofied rock to almost experimental, but with a beat carrying it all along and keeping it together. More than most DJ's, he challenges his audience to find the music's relevance and relationship for themselves. Much of the stuff in the "Fabric" series is too housey for me, but this finds a ground all its own. The package, by the way, is a neat metal canister with a cardboard slipcover: distinctive, but a bit inconvenient.
Grid--Evolver (1994): Early 90's dance, with bits of acid house and breakbeat scattered around. You might recognize David Ball's touch from his work as the synth half of Soft Cell; here, he's teamed up with another keyboardist, Richard Norris. This album was somewhat of a hit back in the day, especially for the track Swamp Thing, which got a lot of dancefloor play. As you might expect, it's a combination of synth-dance with hillbilly banjo tracks, and somebody can turn that into a major success every couple of years, it seems. From a modern perspective, this stuff feels relatively straightforward, without the more challenging jazz elements being brought into house music, but it's still good straight-up four-on-the-floor.
Bonobo--Dial 'M' for Monkey (2003): Downtempo: music to drop your heart rate, slow your breathing, and turn your mind inward. Something about the UK seems to encourage people to create this kind of music; maybe the density of people there demands some kind of escape? Anyway, this caught my eye because I'd already heard some of his music, notably Flutter, which is the second song on this disc, and because just about everything on the Ninja Tune label is interesting, even if I don't like all of it.
RJD2--Deadringer (2002): A debut album of jazzy hip-hop with lots of influences and elements such as soul and trip-hop. The vocals are generally contributed by others (Blueprint, Jakki and Copywrite are featured), but the music is his, with the obligatory turntablism and sampling. Although he's American, there are some things that I can't quite put a finger on which feel more British in this album. I had already heard the track Cut Out to FL, and am happy to find an album with more work by this very funky dj.
Ninja Tune--Ninja Cuts: Funkjazztical Tricknology (1995): Back in '95, this was the true underground sound; I wasn't hip to the scene then, but the music is still solid. This is one of the earliest compilations released by the Ninja Tune label, and it's not as "crazy" as some of their later stuff, when seen from a decade later. Abstract and instrumental hip-hop, nu-jazz and chillout/downtempo are the overriding flavors here, with tracks from many classic names: Coldcut (who run the label), DJ Food, 9 Lazy 9, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Funki Porcini, Ashely Beedle, Attica Blues, The Herbalizer, and Up Bustle & Out. Not a lot of sharp edges, compared to other (usually later) work by many of the same people; this is 4 A.M. at the jazz club, when the sign says "closed" and the smoke doesn't smell even remotely legal.