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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

N Is for Ninja

The latest batch of free MP3 files and streams from the British Ninja Tune record label are varied and splendid. Highlights include a new video for Kid Koala’s superb, jazz-flavored “Basin Street Blues” single, and a bit of archival Sesame Street giddiness. The files are broken down into three categories (one of audio tracks available as downloads and streams, one of tracks only available as audio streams, one of video streams). The material is presented in conjunction with the Ninja Tune and its ninjatune.net portal. In the interest of time, the files are listed in the order of Disquiet’s recommendation, within each category, starting with the most essential.

”¢ Treva Whateva‘s “Havana Ball” (MP3, Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). A lively Latin party song secucred to a hefty digital pulse. A sure thing for fans of the group Up, Bustle & Out’s recent Cuban excursion.

”¢ Chris Bowden‘s “Crockers & Killers (Palmskin Remix)” (MP3, Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). Bowden’s intial work for Ninja Tune surprised fans of the label, because it was the most unmolested jazz (albeit a jazz fond of odd time signatures) the label had produced. Now comes a remix that works Bowden’s smooth if off-kilter jazz back into the Ninja fold.

”¢ Homelife‘s “Wobbly Jack” (MP3, Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). At first it sounds like a light, King Sunny Ade-stule juju counterpart to the Fela-style Afrobeat of fellow Ninja Tune artists Antibalas, but then the heaving strings and a diva vocal line pop up, and all bets are off.

”¢ Loka‘s “Beginningless” (MP3, Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). Pity, this would have been perfect on the soundtrack to Lost in Translation, film director Sofia Coppola’s recent paean to romance and jetlag. The track is lush and driving at the same time, a rare feat.

”¢ Super Numeri‘s “The Coastal Bird Scene Pt. 1” (MP3, Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). A 12″-only track, laden with harps, cymbals, lilting guitar and other symbols of lazy days; almost five minutes in length, it takes its time getting underway, content to linger like a British folk revival band’s interpretation of Miles Davis’ electric period.

This batch is available only as streams: ”¢ Kid Koala‘s “Skanky Panky” (Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). Off Koala’s current Some of My Best Friends are DJ’s, this is a ska beat — the favorite martial music of night clubs — with a scattering of bluesy turntablism layered on top.

”¢ Cookie Monster & the Girls‘s “Pinball Number Count” (Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). A bit of Sesame Street history (yes, the PBS TV kids show), dug up and reconstructed by Strictly Kev, one of Ninja Tune Records’s resident audio jesters. This track is a remix by the late Larry Levan, who was a resident master at the storied New York City club the Paradise Garage. Reportedly that’s the Pointer Sister singing the “do do do” backup. The originating EP (more info and streams here) also includes two versions of “C Is for Cookie.”

”¢ Mr. Scruff‘s “Giffin (A.O.S Mix)” (Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). Uptempo, downbeat, unclassifiable, oddly classy — another indelible track from the ever-curious Mr. Scruff.

”¢ Bonobo‘s “Pick Up” (Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). Fourtet remixes Bonobo’s island jazz: stuttering the percussion, slamming the drums.

”¢ The Herbaliser‘s “Tea & Beer (Featuring Jean Grae)” (Real Audio stream, Windows Media stream). Off the band’s Solid Steel presents The Herbaliser: Herbal Blend, featuring Jean Grae, whose mutant power is a nimble rap style.

Also available, five Ninja videos, all streaming: ”¢ Kid Koala‘s “Basin Street Blues” (Real Video, Windows Media). An intricately illustrated video set in New Orleans for this stellar, downtempo track from turntablist Koala.

”¢ Pest‘s “Chicken Spit” (Real Video, Windows Media). In this low-budget video, to a slight tune with orchestral samples and heavy downbeat, a boy and girl in fuzzy yellow corporate-mascot outfits meet, flirt, go for a stroll and … well, you have to see it for yourself. Hell hath no fury like a man in a bright yellow chicken suit.

”¢ Homelife‘s “Flying Wonders” (Real Video, Windows Media). First off, even without the video, this is a great bit of indie rock (eliptical half-spoken vocal, evident ghosts of sentimental singer-songwriting), as filtered through the ever funky, ever whimsical Ninja Tune prism. The video is a rough animation of hideous little people exercising, dancing and making their way in the world.

”¢ Bonobo‘s “Flutter” (Real Video, Windows Media). At first it’s less a video than it is a lava lamp choreographed to Bonobo’s mix of rigorous percussion and playful funk, but slowly images come into view: a teddy bear, a tape cassette, a bug … oh, my.

”¢ Jaga Jazzist‘s “Day” (Real Video, Windows Media). The members of the Jaga band lend their heads to this goofy animated kaleidoscope.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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