Night Slugs tracks make for arresting singles. Often larger than life, they tend to freeze the momentum of a set and draw attention to the space-age might of their flashy rhythms. In a sense, they’re like secret weapons, which is likely why DJs such as Ben UFO, Oneman, Pearson Sound, and Gold Panda have all enlisted bits of the label’s catalog on recent mixes for the Fabriclive and DJ-Kicks series. In the context of a broader sonic landscape, Night Slugs’ tunes have carved their own unique niche, one that’s just wild enough to stand out from their musical relatives in the fields of grime, garage, 2-step, dubstep, house, and techno. The London imprint has certainly offered up its share of anthems during its three-year run, yet 2012 also saw the crew expanding its sound and shifting its focus. On the heels of that, the release of Night Slugs Allstars Volume 2 provides a sort of window into the label’s current state of mind.

Although the Night Slugs Allstars Volume 2 compilation spans the outpost’s many influences to display the breadth of its catalog, it’s not a completely jarring listen. The tracks are sequenced to maximize fluidity and coherence by grouping like-minded efforts together. The CD starts with a few bright-eyed, retro-futuristic bangers in the form of L-Vis 1990‘s “Lost in Love (Night Slugs Allstars Street Mix)” and Girl Unit‘s “Ensemble (Club Mix).” The former balances the dated feeling of glittering, new wave-leaning synths against the forward-looking vigor of a stuttering drop into broken beats and a gurgling bassline. Likewise, Girl Unit uses squealing arpeggiated melodies and shrill, razor-sharp notes that make the song seem indebted to the past even as it charges into the future with a digital polish.

From there, the compilation plunges into a few fiercely weird instrumentals, tracks which inventively repurpose bits dubstep and grime for exciting new ends. Kingdom‘s “Stalker Ha” and Bok Bok‘s “Silo Pass” use alien vocal samples, gruff barks, curt screams, and unnervingly twinkling keys to imbue their deep bass and marching drums with the eerie quality of a slasher flick. But the tracks’ booming kick drums can hardly compete with the punchy power of the starkly percussive tunes that follow: Jam City‘s “How We Relate to the Body” and Helix‘s “Drum Track,” both of which use a crisp, stripped-down approach to craft huge, sputtering rhythms.

After “Drum Track,” the energy begins to cool down with a handful of late-night slow jams, although the woozy offerings from Egyptrixx and MORRI$ are sandwiched between one last destructive bomb, the souped-up Part II of Girl Unit’s “Double Take.” While Egyptrixx smooths metallic clanging and laser zaps into drifting waves of sound on “Adult,” MORRI$’ “White Hood” is a swooning and sparkling comedown that carves a lurching momentum around wheezing, accordion-like synths. It’s much calmer than most of the other offerings on Night Slugs Allstars Volume 2, yet “White Hood” retains the daring spirit that unites all of the label’s releases. As the collection comes to a close, it becomes apparent that Night Slugs’ strength doesn’t stem from the fact that its artists make bangers; it that’s they set themselves apart by dismantling their influences and diving fearlessly into big, bold sounds. While some of those sounds are undoubtedly designed to whip dancefloors into a frenzy, the ones that aren’t are no less essential to the imprint’s legacy.