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.