The pitch of Few Traces seems to be a revisiting of the scant discography of Mark Renner, who has two LP’s to his name, both from the late 80’s, the most known of which is “Painter’s Joy”. This collection is a mixture of greatest hits and unreleased bits. 21 tracks, ranging from fully-fledged verse-chorus clangy-electric-guitar-pop songs (“Half A Heart” being a prime example) to short sketches that are more like unfinished song ideas than truly experimental pieces, the title track or “Princes Street” being examples of the latter.
Of the influences listed in the press release- Yellow Magic Orchestra, Skids, Cocteau Twins- the most apt are probably Big Country from a sound point of view, and Ultravox in terms of songwriting. Production-wise it couldn’t sound more 1980’s if it tried, with very bright mid-range but a warm fuzziness underneath.
There’s some very good, quite conventional but strong songwriting here- “More Or Less” being worth highlighting. Some of the tracks have a decidedly demo-level feel to them. “Autumn Knows You By Name” and “It Might Have Been” sound like instrumentals for which Renner never got around to recording the vocal, while I’m no guitarist but there are what sound like a few out-of-time strums in “The Wild House”…
“The Sun In His Head, A Storm In His Heart” is interesting but anachronistic- a more genuinely experimental and potentially ahead-of-its-time ambient piece layering up slow synth chord pads with a long recording of a passionate public reading of Scottish poem “Hush”..
People who remember Mark Renner’s music with fondness will be very pleased to hear some unearthed material, but otherwise it does feel like a somewhat indulgent release where the full extent of the source material and its historical relevance doesn’t necessarily merit the luxury anthology treatment.