Mark Renner - Few Traces - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mark Renner - Few Traces

by Sean Hewson Rating:8 Release Date:2018-02-16
Mark Renner - Few Traces
Mark Renner - Few Traces

Mark Renner is a new name to me. Hailing from Baltimore, he released a series of obscure albums in the 80s. Few Traces is a collection of 21 tracks that were originally released between 1982 and 1990.

Riverside arrives on a simple synth line with ambient chords lying behind. Not a great deal else happens but it is an intriguing start. Drum machine, bass and a jangling guitar join the synth for Sages and Saints. Renner’s deep, reverbed vocal also makes its first appearance, sounding not a million miles from Paul Buchanan of the Blue Nile. Of the two guitar parts here, one is pure 80s indie, the other is more like Robert Fripp. The song has the same enigmatic quality as War on Drugs, where you know the song is good and you like it, but you can’t find any obvious hooks. The title track starts with a loud keyboard and quiet drum machine that gets faded out quite quickly and then brought back in. It’s quite odd.  Again, there is the ghostly feeling of something not quite being there. The guitars are back for Half A Heart, as are the vocals. The fuller sound suits Renner’s beguiling songs a bit more as there is more to hold on to. The arrangement has several inter-locking lines, played on piano, keyboard and guitar. The instrumental-vocal-instrumental-vocal pattern continues with a short guitar instrumental called Princes Street, but is then halted by another short instrumental (The Mirror At Saint Andrews), this time Renner sounds more influenced by the Berlin School. His vocals (and the drum machine) are back for The Wild House. There is more Berlin School-style ambience on The Dyer’s Hand. This is the corner of Renner’s instrumental work that I find the most interesting. A Fountain In The Cloister is also instrumental but much stranger. It features some synth brass, quite like a cheap version of 808 State’s Pacific State but with a decidedly unfunky backing. Rainfall ushers in James Cowie (The Portrait Group) and the instrumentation is again strange. The synth almost sounds Medieval this time. Apparently Renner used a Casio CZ-101 quite extensively. The guitar is back again for Autumn Calls You By Name. This time it has delay on it. Ageless, with its simple piano-playing, is Eno-esque ambience. Jars Of Clay is another instrumental. This time Renner sounds like he might be going for Tin Drum-period Japan. At this point another vocal track is welcome, and More Or Less is an another enigmatic classic. The Eternal Purpose is mainly foreboding sounds, a little like Coil. Twin Peaks-like chords start The Sun In His Head, A Storm In His Heart. A Scottish voice can be heard speaking and it continues after the synth chords have died out. The Man & The Echo is a short synth sketch.  As Big As Trees sounds like it might be a section of a Drone-Folk jam. The wonderfully-titled Yeats, And The Golden Dawn is next. It is much more ambient. It  starts with two synth sounds on top of each other. Then a slow arpeggio joins and it becomes another Berlin School piece. A huge drum beat and a jangling guitar start off It Might Have Been, another interesting combination of Marr and Fripp influences. The final track, Wounds, is electronic sounds and occasional synth interjections.

Anyone interested in the more sumptuous, intelligent end of 80s pop music – Blue Nile, Talk Talk, Kate Bush, The Associates, or modern purveyors like Wild Beasts or War On Drugs – might get a kick out of Few Traces. I certainly do. It’s a fascinating album. It could almost be the work of two acts. One is a solitary artist doing short, ambient instrumentals. The other is an 80s Art-Pop band. A real buried treasure. To whom it may concern, I’d quite like to hear a compilation of just tracks with vocals.

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