A good place to start with an important and much-loved series.
Can you believe it's been 10 years traveling along the road with DJ-Kicks? Always respected for its smooth sophistication, the series has found new prominence in recent years with a series of canny, indie-friendly DJ choices (Erlend Oye, Annie) that have turned out surprisingly dance-friendly. DJ-Kicks' original idea -- to design mixes for specifically for listening in the home, not just in the club -- was, in 1996, if not revolutionary then at least fresh; and listening to some of those older recordings, what's remarkable is that they are still successful in the essence of what they were shooting for -- interesting, progressive, cohesive mixes of jazz/house/downtempo that's as interesting to listen to as to dance along to.
Knowing a good thing when they're onto it, after Annie's 25th release in the series, someone decided it was time for a CD of exclusive tracks culled from the past ten years. This could be viewed as a marketing-driven cash-grab except for the claim that a good portion of the tracks here aren't readily available anywhere except for on those original mixes. But the !K7 150 comp from 2003 dropped K&D, Vikter Duplaix, Playgroup and Tiga; 2004's Black Edition mashed a few of those tracks together, added a couple others in too. So if you do the math, and discount the Annie and Erlend Oye tracks off CDs so current they're widely available in both regular and digital form, it's really only a handful of tracks can claim the title of 'rarity' with a straight face.
Still, rare or not, the undeniable fact is !K7 has assembled a cadre of exclusive tracks that bear witness to the DJ Kicks series' high-class reputation. The mix opens with what's become more or less the DJ Kicks theme song, Kruder & Dorfmeister's "Black Baby" -- the prominent bass dwells, easy jazz placement of synth chords, and a shuffling beat with the groaned "Oh black baby" vocal still, after ten years, defines perfect sophistication and edgeless electronica. From there, the hits come at regular intervals. The best pass too quickly because they're just so good you want to savour them for hours: Thievery Corporation's "It Takes A Thief", all laid-back dub and Ibiza space claps; Kid Loco's "Flyin' on 747" with its calm analog crackles and soft, rocking piano riff. Though it's recent enough to be still remembered fondly, Erlend Oye's "Black Keys Work" is perhaps the compilation's strongest song -- a legitimate radio hit in the tradition of Royksopp or Groove Armada.
Of course, "exclusive" does not necessarily equate to "classic". Truby Trio's "High Jazz" doesn't have the sophisticated jazz vibe of other tracks from Truby's DJ Kicks disc (the rub-a-dah-bah-da backing just ruins it for me). TT's other track from that comp, "Galicia (Zero DB Remix)" is better, less goofy high-jazz-in-the-sky schtick, more house sounds and sophisticated rhythms. And as for Tiga's "Hot in Herre", a tongue-firm-in-cheek electro take on Nelly's 2002 hit, I can report -- yes, those lyrics still grate, no matter how ironically draped they are in electro-pop sheen.
The common complaint about label compilations -- that the restricted selection too often results in a mix that feels limited, not totally cohesive -- is unfortunately the case on DJ Kicks: The Exclusives. The tracks themselves are, on the whole, solid, but don't necessarily communicate the full effect of the mixes that they appear on. Still, if you need a jumping-in point for this important and much-loved series and can't decide on one entry (I'd go for Oye or Kruder & Dorfmeister), Exclusives is as good a place as any to start.