My initial impression of 16:9 is that it is two-thirds of a superb ambient disc, and one-third of a disc that simply tries too hard to be something else. When it’s on, it’s absolutely spot-on, and when it’s off, well, I hit the skip button. The first few tracks that Stuart Sweeney offers are captivating, floating ambient pieces that show hints of more structured concepts beneath. The opener, “Where the Shores Meet,” feels like a time-stretched adagio, the pads warm and calm. The title track is a hypnotic drone with a dense bass undertone that just carries the listener along. A gentle melody, more like a momentary phrase, peers out of the flow to snare your attention. “Impressions of a Golden Age” is blissfully ambient, a crush of gauzy near-white noise in looping waves creating a rhythm built of repetition. Crackling sounds just under the surface create texture and tension. Sweeney loses me, however, when he turns his hand to less ambient-oriented pieces–the ones that feel more like they’re ineffectively flexing a bit of neo-classical muscle. The pseudo-Asian rhythms of “Gold and Red,” the honking Glass-like minimalism of “A Time of Change,” the short tangle of overt drama in “Fantasia for a Storm”–when they’re held up against the earlier tracks where Sweeney really hits the mark, they just feel like they’re stretching too far and taking the listener (me , anyway) out of an otherwise seamless journey. That being said, the closing track, “Cherry Blossom Falls” is a purely romantic chamber piece where Sweeney’s melancholic piano pairs beautifully with strings by Pete Whitefield. Here, the classical-music heritage works as the piece pulls quiet, sad memories out of your head and heart.
16:9 is a certainly well worth a listen. Sweeney is a talented musician with a long background in the industry. This is a debut release that heralds more good things to come.
Available from Oomff.