Sonic Breakdown: Louisville's Tender Mercy talks "Dim Star"

Feb 9, 2023 at 5:59 pm
Tender Mercy.
Tender Mercy. Photo by Nik Vechery.

Mark Kramer, sole member of Tender Mercy, is someone who values a more minimalist approach to life. He’s even made a musical career of crafting short, quiet, and delicately powerful songs, often accompanied by only the barest of instrumentation. Given this, it makes sense Kramer approaches songwriting in a very serious and direct manner.

“When it comes to writing songs, I try not to waste anyone’s time, let alone mine,” he said. “I like to keep them as brief as possible, and I prefer my songs short anyway. I always try to bake them bite-sized. But, having said that, 'Dim Star' is the longest track on album, clocking in at over five epic minutes, which feels like an eternity to me. I’ve actually shortened it when I play it live. It’s also one of three songs on the album that is six lines long, which, for me, makes it a real thick novel.”

“Dim Star” is more a (nearly) imperceptible swell of crystalline ambience than a traditional song. Think Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” meets Sigur Rós and you might be on to something. Kramer’s clear melodies weave through the air as if sung from the bottom of an icy cavern, delivered with a delicate, melancholy patience. Lush sounds lightly whirl while flourishes of guitar twang ghost out as quickly as they come in. What’s really so unique about “Dim Star” is how Kramer yields the surrounding space here like its own musical instrument, making what fills this space as aurally important as what doesn’t.

“When I write something, I try not to focus too much on what it’s about," Kramer said. "I like to keep things vague to retain a bit of mystery even for myself. A lot of music I love has that quality. There’s no definite meaning or story behind the words. The artist leaves it open to interpretation. I think, in doing so, the listener makes it more of their own by relating their experiences or views when interpreting the words. Not everything needs to be spelled out and explained. I’m happy just to write a few lines that move me, and if they happen to rhyme, I see that as a bonus.”

But for “Dim Star,” Kramer said, things felt different, and he approached the song with more intent to meaning, especially lyrically.

“The lyrics were inspired by what I was assuming was a piece of clickbait that claimed that astronomers have been watching a distant star and noticed its light dimming and brightening at irregular intervals, which is generally attributed to an orbiting planet passing in front of the star. But because the light fluctuations were so irregular and orbiting planets tend to be regular, one possible conclusion is that it was an alien megastructure. I thought that that was pretty ridiculous, but I clicked anyway 'cause it also sounded awesome! Turns out, it’s actually a real star and has been named Boyajian’s Star after the woman who discovered the fluctuations.”