Thursday, February 3, 2011

Faded Photographs - Absent Without Leave

Faded Photographs

Absent Without Leave
Sound In Silence Records.

SCQ Rating: 67%

Anyone with a voracious hunger for soft-hued post-rock and net-label electronica has likely crossed George Mastrokostas’ Absent Without Leave project. It’s no wonder how ever-present his name is; forget being prolific, just check out how connected his instrumental moniker is. He has recorded for Chat Blanc, Duotone, the likely defunct Distant Noise Records, and a slew of others but you needn’t look further than the liner notes of Faded Photographs to get a sense of the company he keeps: Epic45, port-royal, millimetrik, and members of Hood and The Declining Winter to name but a few. If you’ve a passing interest in European label Make Mine Music, you know what a like-minded troupe Mastrokostas has gathered, one hell-bent on emotively pastoral guitar progressions polished within an aural inch of sterility.

And that’s how Faded Photographs plays out, with each track built one layer at a time until it has reached an orchestrated swoon. ‘How The Winter Comes’ accomplishes that dreamy trajectory with a sense of modesty, as does ‘Dreams and Hopes’, but the predictability lying at the heart of Mastrokostas’ centerpiece – that his acoustic guitar, his lead instrument, rarely deviates at all – begins to underwhelm over a course of songs varying between four and eight minutes in length. Sometimes one of these guitar figures has some percussive snap behind it, like both the enjoyable title track as well as ‘Balloons In the Sky’, but this strategy is doomed; without even a subtle shift away from such linear chord repetitions, these songs (bearing no distinct beginning or end) could technically loop onward forever. Accompanied by such a brimming assortment of guest-musicians only makes this compositional argument more pointed, as it’s hard to shake the idea that many of these familiar Epic45 and Declining Winter flourishes are simply fancying up bare-boned guitar melodies.

Electronic and post-rock fans smitten with the genres’ tendency to create emotional backdrops for personal reflections will eat Faded Photographs by the spoonful and, while I can appreciate why that is, Absent Without Leave doesn’t offer enough twists in the road for me to choose this pretty soundtrack over countless others.

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