VA: Nothing Concrete

99X/10 label head Roger O'Donnell has adorned his label's premiere release Nothing Concrete with the Tolstoy quote “Music is the shorthand of emotion”—an apt choice, given the degree to which the album's ten contributors keep their sights firmly set on compositional structure and development as opposed to sound alone. The comp is a fabulous collection of immaculately crafted material that's remarkably homogenous, despite its 76-minute running time, nineteen track total, and stylistic diversity. Keyboard player for groups like The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, and Thompson Twins, O'Donnell himself bookends the set with two lovely tracks, a placid overture and melancholy meditation (both performed on a Moog Voyager), plus handles arranging duties on Erin Lang's lurching electro-lullaby “All We Can Do Now.”

The other artists' material is consistently fine. Somnolent (Aaron Piccirillo) favours blurry synth ambiance that recalls the style of Eno's Music for Films, while Pale Amber Glow (David McQuay) contributes a wide-screen ambient drone (“Snowfall”) and breezy post-rock (“New Leaf”). Sensory Factory (Roger Mercier) adopts a heavier beat focus on his two pieces, with the roiling tribal funk of “Anthem” impressing strongly. Goddamn Electric Bill (Jason Torbert) contributes two folktronica exercises, with “Oui-ja” an especially hypnotic oasis of rapturous voices and acoustic guitars. In addition, the mellow melodic electronica of Dead Waiter's (Meason Wiley) “Apathy,” with its dubbed-out beats, electric piano, and bright vibes, is as good as the genre gets. Alka (Brian Bonfiglio) impresses too with chiming keyboard pulsations and lush washes in “I Fell Down a Very Long Well” and “Your Wayward Stare” while Ecce (Nick Lisher) sculpts an entrancing meditation of guitar shimmer and soft synth billow (“Oriens”) that recalls Eluvium. The collection's singular grating moments occur with the somnambulant singing of The Maybe (Shanté Clair); on both songs, he sounds like he's targeting some winsome middle ground between Billy Corgan and Sigur Rós's Jónsi Birgisson but what results sounds fey and mannered.

Given that Nothing Concrete foreshadows the label's imminent releases (six full-lengths are scheduled to follow the sampler with one appearing each month), the label's future appears bright indeed, at least on quality grounds. If the artists can individually live up to the promise of the compilation, their separate releases might, in many cases, be incredible. O'Donnell's The Truth in Me in particular sounds like one to watch for, as it purportedly will include remixes by Fourtet and the Album Leaf.

November 2005