Various Artists

Rarewerks, Vol. 2

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Building steadily onto the scaffolding of Rarewerks from the previous year, the formidable Astralwerks label delivers another smart package of obscure tracks from not-so-obscure artists. In fact, those familiar with part one will recognize a lot of the contributors. The Chemical Brothers are the only act here to receive double-billing, as they both remix and are mixed. They run Fatboy Slim's "Song for Shelter" through an acid house fusion reactor that makes for an explosive start, and they in turn receive a deliciously minimal Daft Punk remix of "Life is Sweet" with kaleidoscopic sequencer lines and new wave drum machines. Considering how pared-down the mix is, it stays successfully afloat for eight and a half minutes. On similar turf, the retro-sounding Playgroup single "Number One" gets a fresh coat of plastic and neon courtesy of Felix da Housecat -- it's Soft Cell, New Order, and Giorgio Moroder blended to a light froth with heavy attitude. Next, Dimitri From Paris tips his beret in style for an easily digestible house track of swizzle-stick cool (who cares that it doesn't really do anything besides groove in place?). Air's live recording of "Dirty Trip" (from the soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides) is a foreboding quartet of bass, vibes, drums, and keyboards (plus a few unsubtle sonic white-noise sweeps). The results are satisfying in that they showcase the musicians in an intimate setting, plus this track is the only one that doesn't require programmers to make what listeners are hearing. The Beta Band travel the furthest away from home with a jaw-dropping hip-hop mix of "Squares" that redirects the radio-friendly tune for the streets of South Central -- it's a perfectly unpredictable metamorphosis, seasoned with the spitfire guest vocals of Don Juan. Doves arrive on the scene next, with a welcome palette cleanser of syncopated rock called "Crunch." It's a lean, roll-the-credits instrumental with rusted acoustic rhythm guitar, large drums, and power chords that sound like the genuine article compared to the simulated equivalent that turntablists can piece together. Richard Scanty's acid laboratory of "Southern Thing" is not so much an unearthed rarity, but a sneak preview from his forthcoming album. The same goes for "Witch-Bitch? (B-Girls' Anthem)," shuffling out of the starting gate as T-Love, a Jill-of-all-trades in the L.A. hip-hop scene, lays out a soulful scolding that listeners only want to hear more of, and will in due time. Basement Jaxx brings the disc to a near close with an extended "Extra Mix" of "Fly Life," one that supposedly carries a lot of influence and cult status (originally just a white label 12"). Collectors can rejoice, and yes it's a good groove, but the average Joe might be glancing at his wristwatch before this track ends. Sought-after vocalist Beth Orton gets a little cayenne sprinkled into her "Central Reservation"'s remix, courtesy of Joe Clausell and Jerome Sydenham. Her vanilla tones and an acoustic guitar mingle confidently through a nighttime festival in Cancun, delivering a warm and satisfying close to this compilation. Astralwerks has clearly broadened their wingspan in terms of genres, although electronica and house still play prominent roles. For all the twists, turns, and even traffic jams, it's surprising how well (and often) this collection "werks."

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