Absent Without Leave: 'Neath the Tumbling Stars EP
Annelies Monseré and Richard Youngs: Split Series Volume 3
Two new EP-length releases from Three :four Records, the first a guitar-based set of instrumentals and the second a split project featuring song-based material from Annelies Monseré and Richard Youngs, prove themselves to be well worth one's time and attention.
On the evidence of ‘Neath the Tumbling Stars, Absent Without Leave, the guitar-based project of Athens, Greece-based George Mastrokostas, can rightfully take its place alongside the work of similarly minded six-string artists like Talvihorros, Fennesz, and thisquietarmy. It's hardly his maiden voyage, as Mastrokostas has previously issued music on labels such as Symbolic Interaction, October Man Recordings, thisquietarmy Records, and his own Sound In Silence, among others, and collaborated with port-royal, yellow6, and Televise, to name a few. Mastrokostas makes a compelling case for Absent Without Leave in the EP's twenty-two minutes and three instrumentals.
Though all three prove rewarding, the EP's major piece is the A-side's title track, which unspools across twelve glorious minutes. A classic slow-builder, the piece begins with unassuming strums easing the listener into a languorous setting of effects-laden haze before ethereal e-bow-like streams stretch themselves across the sky. The material grows ever-more uplifting as the minutes roll by, with the materials gradually swelling into a dense cloud that mutates halfway through into a grainy, Fenneszian wave of epic proportions. Of all the EP's pieces, it's this one that displays Mastrokostas's artistry and control most forcefully. The B-side, which features two five-minute pieces, opens with “As the Leaves Fall From Trees,” which, in keeping with its title, is sombre in character, with tremolo-laden guitar figures dropping from the air in slow-motion. A wistful folk aura surrounds “Calm of the Sea,” a peaceful meditation that provides an illuminating end to the recording. It's a lovely mood piece powerful enough in its understated way of evoking personal associations and memories in any listener. Enhancing ‘Neath the Tumbling Stars' appeal even more, the hand-numbered, twelve-inch vinyl version of the release is packaged in a red cover distinguished by a blind-embossed design.
The second release is almost as strong as Absent Without Leave's with one exception. The A-side's offering by Annelies Monseré, who has been performing solo since 2000, collaborated with Jessica Bailiff, and issued albums on BlueSanct (her debut Helder) and Auetic (Marit), offers a wholly successful exploration of a single song's expressive possibilities. In this case, she interprets “Sand” in five different ways, using two instrumental and three vocal approaches to do so. After inaugurating the suite with a lovely melodica rendering of the song's theme, Monseré introduces the first of three entrancing vocal-based treatments in “Sand (Guitar),” a dirge-like incantation that exploits her hushed delivery to good effect. The song receives multiple treatments, with her voice backed by guitar, piano, and organ in the three respective settings. The stark guitar backing brings forth the lonely character of the song, whereas the chiming piano patterns imbue the piece with a misty and time-weathered quality. The brief instrumental cello variation exudes a mournful character, due in no small part to the instrument itself, while the “Sand (Organ)” plays like a macabre and dark lullaby, a death chant whispered into a dying child's ear as she takes her final breaths.
The least satisfying of the pieces featured on the two releases is Richard Youngs' “Be Brave, This World,” a ten-minute setting for voice and guitar that occupies the full B-side of the split release. In essence, the composition backs a vocal whose chant-like delivery lends it an almost possessed feel with a shuddering backdrop of looped guitar patterns that, in its endless cycling, generates a somewhat psychedelic effect. The guitars meld into an incessantly chattering swirl of staccato flutter in contrast to Youngs' untreated voice, all of which makes for an interesting enough result though one not quite interesting enough to warrant ten minutes of it. The Glasgow-based artist might have been better to edit the song to half its length and accompany with it a second five-minute song of markedly different character. Nevertheless, on artist-related grounds, two out of three ain't a bad batting average, all things considered (more like two-and-a-half out of three, really), and both releases are well worth having not only for the variety of their contents but for the obvious care with which they've been brought to their final form.