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Various artists

With the exception of movie soundtracks, various-artists samplers are usually a marketing ploy by some record label to lure you into listening to tracks by a bunch of its B-list artists, tacking on a song or two by a big-name band to get you to push play in the first place. But I tossed such skepticism aside when the first album of the Plastic series came into my hands, because the electronica compilations on the Nettwerk America label have been consistently stellar and only slightly nepotistic.

The same is true of volume 4. Like its predecessors, it highlights both up-and-coming and established talent from the Nettwerk stable but leaves room for other players. Also as usual, Plastic 4 is a seamless blend of tracks from beginning to end that flows like a good DJ set.

Hybrid takes a turn on the opening cut, a spare but driving version of "Never Gonna Come Back Down" by BT. Known here as "Hybrid's Breaktek Mix," the track finds the knob-twiddlers adding a dose of breakbeat to the trance-light tune, also toughening it up with an ominous bass synth drone and balancing that with a sweetly sad piano-and-cello coda. Happy, bubbly synths reverse the mood and kick up the tempo on "Scorchio," a nearly ten-minute trance workout by Sasha and Emerson. The wobbling remix of Trisco's "Muzak" throws down kick-drum and throbbing-bass techno best for dance floor consumption.

Guest vocalist Frank'ee hooks up with Brother Brown for the insistent, driving trance of "Under the Water," on which her voice ranges from mournful to forceful, almost angry. This remix by the Faithless crew features several different buildups and breakdowns, making it a perfect lead-in to "Breathe" by Art of Trance. In the able hands of Cygnus X, the remix reaches epic peaks with majestic flourishes and breathy vocals from Caroline Lavelle. PVD picks up the trance baton for another leg, delivering Paul van Dyk's "Tell Me Why." Snappy kick drum and electronic hand-clapping set the tempo, then build into a sinister section of gyrating and twangy synths that eventually unfurls into a cool, lush soundscape before coming full circle to a pounding conclusion.

In addition to BT and van Dyk, other heavy hitters take turns at the plate here, including the Chemical Brothers, whose "Out of Control" gets treatment at the hands of Sasha. And what compilation of recent dance tracks would be complete without Moby's "Porcelain"? This "Clubbed to Death Variation Rob Doughan Mix" might refer to both the bass-heavy, no-vocals club friendliness and the high bpms of this version -- and to the fact that listeners have been clubbed over the head with remixes of this ubiquitous song. But it's a winner with its spare, stripped-down use of the song's tinkling piano motif and the insertion of some horns and monk-chanting samples. As with the rest of these remixes, mission accomplished.

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John Ferri

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