Talk about a lucky kid. Steve Swartz’s daughter was one of the first to hear the ambient guitar work that would eventually come to fill his first solo CD, Nighttide. Of course, at the time he was just trying to get her to go to sleep by playing softly in her room, but that’s what got him started. From there came the experiments in drawing unique sounds out of the guitar, whether by hammering on it or letting fan-blown curtains sweep across the strings. However Swartz went about it, the end result is a set of gauzy grey drones which he layers deeply while prodding the surface gently with recognizable touches of guitar for a nicely worked contrast. The pieces here retain their original soporific capabilities throughout, but Nighttide is certainly more than a set of day’s-end lullabies for grown-ups. While there is an overall warmth to Swartz’s tones, there are also touches of darkness hovering at the edges, sometimes passing over briefly like heavy clouds. What truly makes this disc work, however, is the power of nuance. It’s everywhere, and it’s beautifully done. You hear it in the three simple bass notes that restate themselves across the wash of “Dinghy”; in the way a picked melody in “It Glimmers Through the Snow” slowly fades beneath a rising soundfog, only to re-emerge at the end, a circle completed; in the struck tremolo chords that give “Mid-Day Bells” its sonic identity. There’s something in every track that gingerly but effectively asserts itself against the density of Swartz’s processed guitar. It’s a very soothing disc, to be sure, but Swartz gives you a lot to be aware of, peripherally speaking, while you’re drifting along. It demands, deserves and rewards all the attention you give it. Put it on repeat immediately. Nighttide is a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD.
Available at Bandcamp.