Review: Absent Without Leave – ‘Neath the Tumbling Stars

Truth be told, there’s a chance you’ve heard something reminiscent of ‘Neath The Tumbling Stars already. George Mastrokostas seems to be part of the “bedroom ambience” movement that spawned in the wake of Eluvium’s Lambent Material and the like, capturing panoramic ambition of ambient escapism within intimate, hand-crafted introspection. When executed effectively (knowingly or not), these artists weave a fragility into the most grand and abstract imagery – in the case of ‘Neath the Tumbling Stars, a shimmering night sky is cast as a delicate glass dome, threatening to shatter under any brash movement. Atmosphere is well judged, and Mastrokostas stands above contemporaries in this respect.

The 11-minute title track takes a lead role. A single melody loops and patiently awaits other textures to gradually crystallise over the top, with bright e-bow drones and plucked guitar ostinatos compacted into an ever-growing wall of sound. Rhythm isn’t drowned out completely, but retreats and becomes ghost-like; its definition is weakened by the increasing density of sound layers. The melodic motif itself is pretty, even if it abides quite explicitly by post-rock cliché – ascending and descending with the exasperated inhale/exhale of minor key sombreness.

But the way in which these pieces come together feels too predictable. Layers are added one by one, with the amalgamative whole left to plateau for a while before the construction is peeled back to the core again. It’s far too easy, and ultimately feels too static to correlate with the transportive qualities of the music – there’s a sense of futility that accompanies the rise and fall, as ‘Neath the Tumbling Stars forever falls back to where is started.

It’s partially because of this that the two shorter compositions are more successful. Structure isn’t emphasised and blown into large proportion by the pace at which is unfolds, and focus is permitted to return to the moods and melodies provoked (which are slightly more poignant and penetrative during these tracks). And much like the narrative driving these pieces, I return to my opening point: when focusing on the atmospheric qualities of the music alone, ‘Neath the Tumbling Stars captures a solid balance between the astronomical and the internalised, presenting the listener with a sonic galaxy that still has the seams and stitches of its creation on show.