Tender Mercy


It Was You [2016]

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This is one of the local acts I get really excited about, so I'll try to stay focused. Tender Mercy, to me, has always been about an ambiance. I think the music borrows a lot from black metal in that respect. Tonality and spacial relations are themes in Mark Kramer's work as much as the lyrics. But with his upcoming five-track release "It Was You," it seems Tender Mercy is exploring new textures and dynamic structures through previous avenues.
It's easy to fall into a trance-like state with much of Tender Mercy's work, but "It Was You" finds ways to interrupt this flow for the listener. While the sonic qualities of the album are expansive (thick reverb, etc.) the percussion on the title track, in particular, is almost dancy. The track "Path:Trails" has a similar effect on its listener, specifically during the chorus, in which Mark nearly whispers the first two words of each line, and melodically explodes the rest, asking "Are you blazing a path, or are you following trails?"
"It Was You" will be released under Bright Tonight Recordings this Saturday, March 12, at Dreamland, with Michael Seymour and Psychic Skin and Tender Mercy. This is one of the more challenging releases I've heard so far in 2016, so pick up a copy and give it all of your attention. -----Logan Nichols/37 Flood

The last time we heard new music from Tender Mercy (Mark Kramer), it came in the form of Sacred Sphinx, his excellent 2015 album. He has seemingly mastered his approach to ambient, atmospheric folk, constructing songs at a truly minimalist level utilizing just his voice, an acoustic guitar and the air in the room.
To change things up, his latest release, titled It Was You is a collaborative effort with a nice selection of Louisville artists that bring a new arsenal of instrumentation making use of synthesizers, electric guitar, and even some use of a drum machine. Each song features a different guest, making each track a truly unique experience. -----Phillip Olympia/Never Nervous

Sacred Sphinx [2015]

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Mark Kramer, the man behind the curtains in Tender Mercy, never fails to capture a level of intimacy in his music that would feel intimidating to a less secure musician. His newest, “Sacred Sphinx,” feels somehow even more naked than before, the ghostly guitar serving as the sole accompaniment again, but even more stripped down than before. Kramer’s currency is his restraint, his ability to allow a melody to remain so achingly bare-bone that it seems to fade out of existence at times, like a sleepy afternoon spent nodding off to something you love. Per usual, the real tension lies in the space between the notes, between his delicate voice and gently plucked string work on the guitar, made that much more lush with a liberal use of reverb, though not to the point of obscuring the character of either instrument here. - Syd Bishop/LEO

One of the toughest, and most under appreciated things to pull off in music is being quiet. Playing quietly requires you to be much more precise and deliberate with every note. Individual tones and intervals are thoroughly heard and taken in, so each note means a lot more. This is why the new Tender Mercy album Sacred Sphinx is so impressive.
Sacred Sphinx is a meditative trip through the mind of Mark Kramer, the single artist on the project. It’s beautifully layered with a cathedral-sounding reverb and delay when it is needed. With these effects Mark is able to make one note boom as if you are alone in the Grand Canyon.
Albums like this are rare. Mark Kramer knows when silence is more important than finding the next note. Also, barely any chords are played on the guitar through the entire album. He hits one note at a time, always making sure it’s the right one. The album uses these techniques and layers as a theme that makes the album as a whole, one piece of sonic art.
Sacred Sphinx is available to stream and buy here. I recommend checking out the limited edition Cassette; find it at one of Louisville's record stores. - Jake Hellman/Never Nervous

If there is any music that best summarizes lost, dead-of-winter melancholy, it’s Tender Mercy, the creative vehicle for Mark Kramer. The music is as sparse and barren as you can imagine, a stark landscape devoid of anything but the most necessary musical components, which is represented here with guitar and voice alone. There is a quality to Kramer’s music — not unlike a Cormac McCarthy novel — that, in spite of what may otherwise be perceived as bleakness, there is a grain of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel that informs even the darkest reaches of the narrative. - Syd Bishop/LEO

Mark Kramer, aka Tender Mercy, returns with his hypnotic guitar plucking that dissolves note after note with haunting vocals that echo across speakers like a spirit in the distance. The very limited (only 100) cassette of Sacred Sphinx is now available on his Bandcamp page. - We Listen For You Sound Report

Tender Mercy‘s 5-song EP Sacred Sphinx follows up on his 2014 debut of the same length. His milieu hasn’t changed a bit: it’s still Mark Kramer’s forlorn voice, a gently plucked guitar, tape hiss, and reverb. The minimalist, slowcore songs that result are heavily mood-oriented pieces; they rely not on complexity, but on the all-pervasive mood that the few elements create. It takes work to make simplicity sound so vital, and it’s clear that Kramer has put in that work.
Because of the stark minimalism, the melodies that Kramer features feel immediate and foregrounded: the vocals in the chorus of “Invisible” and the guitar patterns in “Doubt” and “MLK Day” are particularly striking. By contrast, the near-consistent guitar strumming of “Dirt Mtns” feels like a grand statement. Tender Mercy’s songs create an alternate universe for themselves and suck you into it: they seem difficult and foreboding at first, but their charms unfold as the listener slowly accustoms to the type of world that Kramer is imagining. Slow down a bit and enjoy Sacred Sphinx; it’s not the sort of thing that you work to. It’s an experience to be savored. - Independent Clauses

As Someone Else You Embrace the Moment In Us [2014]

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Never has a musical project had a more apt name than Tender Mercy. The now-solo venture by Mark Kramer, Tender Mercy explores singer-songwriter compositions so utterly stark that they almost fade away entirely. With his newest release, As Someone Else You Embrace the Moment In Us, Kramer induces an atmosphere of glimmering, if distant hope. Delicate, each song is a testament to restraint and refined beauty, focusing intently on the interplay between Kramer’s spare guitar work and voice, which somehow manages the careful balance between brittle and powerful. What sets Tender Mercy apart from other folk music is the barren landscapes Kramer works with, that each song hinges on the slightest sounds, making as much use of the space around each note as the note itself. It’s this tenuous nature that informs the tension throughout the all-too-brief EP, which carefully embraces the listener. Kramer is an absolute treasure to Louisville music. — Syd Bishop/LEO

Louisville's Mark Kramer (aka Tender Mercy) crafts softly dramatic experimental folk ballads that analyze the hypnotic ability of sound. If you're fortunate enough to see a Tender Mercy live show, Kramer's music becomes illuminated by its skill to repeat and relearn. It's also obvious on tracks like "In Us". The track introduces an idea that slowly and skillfully loops on itself and seems to grow into a more powerful form as the sounds matures through time. We often use the word hypnotic to convey a powerful emotional that allows the listener to get lost in the music. With Tender Mercy and other experimental folk projects, the word hypnotic is used much more literally as flourishes and flash are put aside for the attempt to capture in sound the image of a pocket watch swinging rhythmically before our eyes. It's hard to accomplish such and when musicians like Kramer do so on tracks like "In Us", the experience is unique and rewarding. This type of music is challenging, even in its simplicity, so give it a few spins, let go, and sink in. -Zach Hart/We Listen For You

Over the last couple of years, Mark Kramer has quietly mastered his craft as a singer/songwriter as he continues to embrace the lo-fi/minimalist folk subgenre. (That is a subgenre, right?) No reinvention of the wheel here, just slow, beautifully crafted songs that feature only himself and his acoustic guitar. No drum machines, no synthesizers, not even an amplifier. And this is a good thing, because with Tender Mercy, less is always more. As Someone Else You Embrace The Moment In Us is Kramer's first since his excellent 2011 effort The Road To Good Intention Is Paved With Hell, and while the set up is mostly the same, there a few evolutionary divergences with his latest batch. The songs on this album showcase a voice that is a bit more confident and commanding, and the recording itself is a little more polished. Now that the piano from a few years ago is long gone, the dense, echoing reverb helps thicken up the atmosphere. At about 18 minutes in length, it's a smooth, quick listen from front to back. And while I recommend listening to this album in its entirety, the song I recommend checking out is the spellbinding fifth track "In Us." Absolutely recommended. -Phillip Olympia/Never-Nervous

Fans of lo-fi slowcore like Songs:Ohia, Elephant Micah, and old-school Damien Jurado will have something new to cheer about in Tender Mercy. As Someone Else You Embrace the Moment in Us consists of five songs that never get louder than a single fingerpicked guitar, Mark Kramer’s forlorn voice, and tape hiss. The songs are slow, low, and heavy on atmosphere: discerning between the songs is possible (there are breaks in the tape hiss to mark song changes), but it’s not really the best way to enjoy this set of tunes. Instead, it’s best to let it wash over you; there’s enough gentle reverb on the tracks to imagine that you and Kramer are in a big room where he’s singing just to you. If you move too quickly, you’ll miss the tranquil beauty in it. -Stephen Carradini/Independent Clauses

The Road To Good Intention Is Paved With Hell [2011]

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Tender Mercy’s The Road To Good Intention Is Paved With Hell is an exploratory and experimental record, unlike anything I’ve recently laid ears on. Free of rock cynicism or pompous overproduction, the record emerges as an incredibly personal portrait of former Dayton musician, singer Mark Kramer. Tender Mercy’s “Shame” is both a delicate and fractured song. Kramer’s bare bones delivery is supplemented by resonant piano notes and bleeding guitar; each its own skeletal structure that combines in striking and honest ways. Shadowy and enigmatic, like a figure rocking on the porch during a late night rainstorm, tracks “Prize” and “Expect” are both delicate offerings that unfold slowly and deliberately. Though I wouldn’t peg The Road To Good Intention Is Paved With Hell as alt-country or folk, Tender Mercy’s strength lies is an understated and honest offering that burns with soulfulness and innocence. No track exhibits this phenomenon more than “Drive On,” which is carefully arranged to accent Kramer’s dramatic bleating. If you’re looking for a bloated and indulgent rock record, this isn’t it. Minimalist and heartbreaking? This is your jam. - Tim Anderl/Dayton City Paper, youindie.com

Tender Mercy clings as close to the bone of these songs as can be, keeping the instrumentation sparse. The sounds can seem solemn, led by the soft plucking of a guitar. Mark sings comfortably in a warm voice. Despite being only two instruments and voice, the sound can be a lush, nice moodiness. This is singer-songwriter music as concentrated as it can get. Most of the tunes are of a slower-tempo, and follow the trail unhurriedly. I definitely appreciate music as stripped down as this; there's no delineation with a tricky bell-mare moment. These are songs presented as songs, clinging to the individuality of the lyrics and melodies. I'm reminded of seeing Mark Kozelek's material performed live with simply two guitars. Hey, I'm not gonna lie; it's been a rainy Spring day as I've typing up this album, and its been the perfect minimalist soundtrack for it. This a record with a lot of color hidden within its skeleton. "Drive On" is one of the nicest songs I've listened to in a while. - Brian Manly/americangloam.blogspot.com

This week's album is not new, but was recently introduced to me. My ears have been thankful ever since. Tender Mercy is the brainchild of Mark Kramer and the power that springs from the record is hard to ignore. The Road To Good Intention Is Paved With Hell is an album that, at first listen, calls comparisons to the band, Low. It's subtle, but powerful in the way that each track takes hold of the listener. I made the mistake of listening to this album while working, so I didn't comprehend the strength that's hidden in each song. Once I played the album on my commute home, I noticed that I had a hard time focusing on the outstanding musicianship and the road ahead. The album demands full attention. Minimalist guitar and piano blanket the record and I felt comforted by each note. There is no overproduction on this album and that fact enhances the sound immensely. The Road To Good Intention Is Paved With Hell has an undeniable magnetism that I still haven't been able to dissect. Each aspect of the album is amazing and I highly recommend listening to the album without any distractions to understand exactly what I'm talking about. But if you are playing this record in a social setting, don't be surprised if the idle chatter surrounding the room dies down and is replaced by the overwhelming beauty of Tender Mercy. My jaw has only just recently ascended from its downward position. - Adam Hook/soakedinsound.com

Another one filed away in the day-late-and-a-dollar-short, Tender Mercy's "The Road To Good Intention Is Paved With Hell" is an album long overdue for some Never Nervous attention, one so far overdue that I'm not certain if I should title this as a "Back In The Day" feature, or as just a music review. Essentially the one-man project of the wonderful and kind Mark Kramer and whoever is available to accompany him on piano, this album happens to feature the incomparable Mike Seymour, who I have been and currently am in a band with. That this was released by Dunkenstein Records, the local label run by the owner of this very blog, presents itself as another possible point of contention, and one worth noting if only to illustrate my own personal ties to this, and how those ties may influence my judgment. So in full disclosure, I have more than a passing familiarity with all involved, but I would have written this regardless. Having once attempted to commit an earlier iteration of Tender Mercy to tape, I can attest at how very painfully stark an atmosphere that Kramer induces. Tender Mercy's uncompromising simplicity and use of negative space to induce mood is simultaneously a point of fascination and supreme, well, irritation, for a lack of a better word. That each note is so carefully considered is rendered apparent on any intent listening; if you hear a sound it's there for a reason. Of course, the aforementioned irritation comes when you expect more to happen in each song. It's not that it is necessarily required, but there are what would seem to be ample opportunities for additional accompaniment. Imagine the end of the second track, "Prize," a very subtle, perhaps even distant sounding horn section, that would serve as the metaphorical prize to correspond with both the lyrics and music. Still, it is not that additional instrumentation would improve any one song, nor is that my intended message here. Kramer's vision is obvious with even a cursory listen, that the music should serve as the most basic accompaniment to the words, that the focus is on as compact a vehicle as possible. The result is a sound that often out "slowcores" slowcore, like the band Codeine on actual codeine, or like an even lower Low. The tight melodic interplay between the classical guitar and piano is often ephemeral, as if each note floats in and out in a melancholic, if consonant, haze, cut only by Kramer's melodic voice. This is never more apparent than on "Blind," which sees the piano melody carry the song through much of it's mid section, with a sparse but perfectly timed guitar to punctuate the harmony, all mixed slightly under Kramer's singing. Tender Mercy establishes and maintains their singular vision from the opening notes of "Shame," to the baroque melancholy of "Expect." That I had any expectation whatsoever, any longing for something more, is less a reflection of anything Kramer and company have created, and more a result of the intentness by which each song needs to be consumed, that your attention is commanded and your imagination engaged. This is the real power of Tender Mercy, if the word power could be at all employed, that its subtleties are in the sublime interplay of voice and instrument, in knowing and employing restraint. "The Road To Good Intentions Is Paved By Hell," is the sound of a quiet room while reading a good book; every sound grabs your attention, and every word is made that much more important. - Syd Bishop/never-nervous.com