V/A: Nothing Concrete (99X/10, 2005)
Compilations are frequently a mixed bag. Usually, one will buy a compilation to hear their favourite artist in an exclusive track, and frequently the listener is forced to wade through uninteresting and unappealing tracks to get to their favourite artist’s offering. And, with the advent of internet technology, listeners can craft their own playlists, never having to listen to an unwanted or weak track again. As such, compilations, especially ones put out by upstart labels, have to do something special to grab and hold the attention of today’s music listener.
And that’s precisely what 99X/10 records has done with the remarkable Nothing Concrete, their 19 track compilation of intriguing and largely untapped talent. With styles that range from ambient, to instrumental electronic, to pseudo-space rock, to chilling slow sullen pop songs, 99X/10 has presented 1 hour and 15 minutes of exciting and fresh music that makes the listener wonder where in the world this new label has found such talent. No doubt the main initial draw of Nothing Concrete is Roger O’Donnell, former keyboardist for The Cure and co-head of the label, who offers two instrumental pieces that bookend the compilation. O’Donnell composes songs on an analog Moog synth, and the end result of his bleeps and intertwining melodies is hypnotic. However, beyond O’Donnell, Nothing Concrete offers so many more exciting tracks from talent that, prior to this compilation, were largely unknown. Alka, the moniker for a New Jersey electronic music composer, offers two stunning pieces in “I Fell Down A Very Long Well” and “Your Wayward Stare”, as both songs feature tightly constructed beats over an ethereal and somehow pensive musical canvass. Somnolent creates haunting ambient pieces out of drones that cradle the listener’s ears. Erin Lang, the other visionary behind this music label, includes one track of her delicate slow-core-pop-meets-electronic-jazz music. Ecce delivers two fine tracks that blend subtle shoegaze influences with electronic music for a stunning and contemplative effect. And, on perhaps the highlights of the disc, The Maybe present two songs of dissonant yet gorgeous dark-folk songs, featuring eerie sounds, wonderful melodies, and a slight wisp of a female voice. Together with other great sounding offerings from Goddamn Electric Bill and Sensory Factory, these tracks present a well-constructed and highly listenable compilation of high quality songs that flow together and complement each other nicely.
Nothing Concrete, aptly named perhaps because of the flowing ambient strains that make up this compilation, is one amazing work. By blessing the listener with an experience of intimate human emotion through ambient, electric, and post-rock compositions, the disc more than lives up to the Tolstoyian quote inscribed on the inner jacket of the CD case: “Music is the shorthand of emotion”. 99X/10 proves with Nothing Concrete that it is one label to keep an eye on, with a roster full of unique and creative talent who all hold their own with their more famous label mate O’Donnell. Nothing Concrete is sure to be a welcome addition to the music collections of fans of ambient-electronic-soundscape music. A great compilation from the opening track to the closing…with nary a weak song to skip over. How rare and wonderful!
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