The Herbaliser

Herbal Tonic

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Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba spent 11 years with the Ninja Tune label, releasing six albums between 1995 and 2005 and making sounds that never fit entirely comfortably with that label's tendency toward the abstractly and alternatively funky. From the beginning, the Herbaliser's sound was earthy, raw, caramel-colored, and redolent with the smells and sounds of multiple music scenes and subgenres jostling against each other in a sweaty after-hours bar in a bad neighborhood. This best-of offers a fine overview of the duo's Ninja Tune years, and includes several tracks that showcase the world-class female MC Jean Grae (who slings her slang especially swingingly on "The Blend"), the odd excursion into spy film music (note the explicit Mission Impossible quote on "The Missing Suitcase"), and cameos by both MF Doom and the redoubtable Roots Manuva (who appears on the swaggeringly excellent "Starlight"). There are some experimental moments: "Something Wicked" features nearly subliminal female rapping, French horns, and harpsichord, and "The Sensual Woman" offers startlingly explicit sex advice from what sounds like a 1960s-vintage self-help recording. And although both Wherry and Teeba are accomplished DJs, they keep the turntable flourishes to a minimum, only really bringing the wheels of steel to the fore on "Ginger Jumps the Fence." One or two minor clunkers (such as the slow and rather tiresome "A Song for Mary") notwithstanding, this is an excellent overview of the first part of a distinguished career.

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