George Mastrokostas of Athens, Greece records solo ambient and experimental music as Absent Without Leave. ‘Neath the Tumbling Stars is one of two EPs he released in 2011, his debut release with relatively new French-Swiss imprint Three: Four Records. Although the release is rather short, Mastrokostas establishes deep themes through effective repetition in each of the three pieces. The EP as a whole exudes a feeling of complete suspension, from extremely minimal and exquisite artwork and vinyl to the uncluttered, no-frills presentation of the music.
The A-side presents the title track, the longest piece on the release, which is driven by a subtle/fragile muted rhythm guitar. Mastrokostas gently expands upon the rhythmic track, presenting his listener with ethereal and otherworldly swells, which sound unlike instruments and instead enhance the overall mood as well-placed ambient developments. Unsurprisingly, the swells build, and increase in number, as the rhythm finally drops and the song finishes with the remaining swells. The environment is completely different without the rhythm guitar, and the track effectively builds a quiet suspense that is perfectly completed as Mastrokostas leaves the listener without the track’s skeleton as it closes.
In contrast to the first side, the flip offers two short experiments in guitar arpeggios. The first, “As the Leaves Fall from Trees,” is continuous and repetitive, not unlike the EP’s title track. “Calm of the See” closes the side, serving as a type of sequel to the side’s first track. Mastrokostas plays the second arpeggio faster, but also allows more resting space between each repetition, which gives the listener completely different reference posts while remembering the more dense repetition of the preceding track. As the disc closes, the resting spaces leave a lasting impression, and offer room for revisiting the entire EP through another lens, after hearing its completion once.
Well-recorded, well-placed guitar parts color this release, and Absent Without Leaves provides a peaceful execution and unfolding of music that is entirely ambient and atmospheric, literally leaving the listener suspended in time.
Note that the release is available as a vinyl EP and a download, although the vinyl version is apparently a limited, one-time pressing of approximately 450 copies. At the time of this writing, the vinyl edition appears to be in print at the label.