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Few Traces surveys a near decade of Mark Renner’s scarcely released and unreleased material from 1982 to 1990, embracing and evoking the timelessness of his artistic statement: a wordless translation of the individual’s musical experience, met with the poetic expression of being here.

Mark Renner first encountered punk while a teenager in Upperco, a country town in rural Maryland. Growing up on his family farm, he became a young acolyte of the British exports hitting not-so-distant Baltimore record store shelves in 1979 / 1980 and was baited by an area musician-wanted ad declaring Ultravox a primary touchstone.

This nascent band and a pair of other group experiments flamed out under the typical totem of despotism. In their ashes Renner began recording independently around 1983 with a portable four-track, electric guitar, and classic Casio CZ101 synthesizer. Aside from John Foxx-era Ultravox, Renner’s process was inspired by the period’s electronic pioneers venturing into deeper, romantic pop pastures: Yellow Magic Orchestra, Bill Nelson, The Associates.

With his tools and teachers in place, the blueprints for Renner’s sound were laid out – metronomic, skeletal rhythms built on sturdy yet singular drum machines supporting luminescent guitar and synth lines, Renner’s reverent voice guiding the fables and construction.

Most directly influential, Renner’s enthusiasm for Days in Europa, the third album by Scottish new wave band Skids, would lead to a correspondence and long-distance tutorship with Stuart Adamson. Before Adamson would achieve worldwide success co-founding the group Big Country, a chance friendship with Renner would impart great confidence in the young musician from Maryland, who, after a visit in Edinburgh, would then travel to London to demo an early version of “Half A Heart” featured in its final form on Few Traces.

The sum of Renner’s music is one-part literary, one-part painterly. The artist cites the individualism of Herman Hesse as a guiding force, and there are overt references to W. B. Yeats and John Greanleaf Whittier among other authors. Lyrical themes evoke the presence of the ancient past, much like early Felt songs or the spiritual visions of Van Morrison. (Tellingly, Renner cites Morrison’s 1980s albums made between Inarticulate Speech of the Heart and No Guru, No Method, No Teacher as musical influences.)

Apart from his writing, Renner explored music as a complement to visual language: many of the dream-like instrumental passages presented across Few Traces were originally implemented as sound elements for exhibitions of his paintings. Renner pursued wordless music as a pure aesthetic in its own right, pristinely balanced segues and open-ended compositions that lead to pasture but not without shepherd.

Compiled three decades after the music was originally put to tape, Few Traces collects Mark Renner’s early music but strives not to simplify or reframe it. (Mark is still active making music and painting) The instrumental explorations remain on par with the great ambient adventurers of the period (Brian Eno, Harold Budd, Roedelius), while the vocal and guitar-centric songs crystalize across similar terrains being transversed by Cocteau Twins and The Chills.

Few Traces highlights in intuitive sequence gems from Renner’s scarce discography and archive: the self-released debut All Walks of This Life (1986), the aptly titled follow-up Painter’s Joy (1988), plus early singles, compilation tracks, and exemplary songs that saw no original release. The collection allows an intimate look at an artist growing into their sound and surroundings, finding the in between echoes and spirituality of the individual.

Pauline Anna Strom

Trans-Millenia Music

Otherworldly and anomalous, hushed and hallucinatory, Pauline Anna Strom’s unique style of inner space music reaches across time to futures and pasts far from our own. "Trans-Millenia Music" compiles eighty minutes of Strom’s most evocative work, composed and recorded between 1982 and 1988, for the first authorized overview of the enigmatic Bay Area composer.
Pauline Anna Strom introduced her music to the world in 1982 with "Trans-Millenia Consort", a collection of transportive synthesizer music providing listeners a vessel to break beyond temporal limits into a world of pulsing, mercurial tonalities and charged, embryonic waveforms. Strom’s solicitation into the unknown continued through a half dozen more stellar releases during the decade, which, despite their singularity and mastery, slipped into the more obscure annals of want lists and bootleg editions.
Though Strom’s work developed during the dawn of San Francisco’s influential new age and ambient scenes, her music remains non-programmatic, an adventurous tangent diverting from the era’s ideological tropes. The artist’s own path to creative maturation was atypical. Raised by her Catholic family in Louisiana and Kentucky, she was tragically deprived of sight due to complications from a premature birth. This impairment would sensitize her to listenable worlds with great acuity and creative engagement, the loss becoming a formative aspect of Strom’s spiritualist take on the power of music.
Recalling her youth, Strom says she was “a loner and heretic.” Seeking solace and solidarity, she moved to the mecca of California’s counter culture with her husband, a G.I., who was assigned duty in the Bay Area during the decline of the Vietnam War. Having dabbled with piano as a teen, Pauline’s passion for music reignited when synthesizers became central to the serene scene of San Fran FM radio in the mid-70s. Inspired by the electronic music of the instrument’s early ambassadors (Klaus Schulze, Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream), Strom purchased a Tascam 4-track recorder and a small array of synths (Yamaha DX7, TX816, CS-10) to navigate her own universe of space music.
As she gained confidence to share her creations beyond the walls of the apartment where she meticulously crafted under headphones day and night, Strom took on the artistic identity of the ‘consort,’ spiriting listeners through epochs described by her evocative musical passages. From this moment and represented within Trans-Millenia Music, Strom proves to be a delicate melodist and meticulous colorist, as well as a sound designer of great drama and inspired energy. The celestial sounds evoke the uncertainty of pre-physical and primordial elements, creating an impression of a world beyond access that Strom has always felt was hers. In the collection’s liner notes Strom recounts, “I have always been in touch with the past more than the present.” Apart from its mysteries, Strom’s curiosity for the non-present was also suffused with a social bent. She believed that humanity was confined by its inability to access the people of the future, therefore suffering in a kind of group solipsism. Designing a world of music that rooted itself in all times but the present, Strom’s alter ego, the Trans-Millenia Consort, became a musical activist for triggering this state of heightened consciousness.
Exemplary passages highlighted in Trans-Millenia Music were selected from the three full-lengths originally issued on vinyl in addition to a group of four full-lengths self-released on cassette. This substantive body of work challenges the canonization of new age and ambient music as one-size-fits-all categories. Strom’s music induces a dynamic range of listening that captivates and intrigues, a cinematic experience rather than a meditation for passive listening.


Barry says: An entrancing and relaxing collection of library-style ambience, cosmic synths and hypnotic slo-mo tine-heavy electric piano. Blipping arps, psychedelic LFO scree and an intoxitating echoing fog will take you to the stars and back.

Helado Negro

Private Energy (Expanded)

Exploring the expressivity within intense states of being, Latinx identity, and pluralistic sensibilities, Helado Negro’s Private Energy (Expanded) is an engrossing statement achieved through lyrically personal and political avant pop music.

Private Energy (Expanded) carves a deep groove through the electronic music landscape, challenging to best Brooklyn-based artist Roberto Carlos Lange’s previous accomplishments under the Helado Negro moniker. Half a decade and half a dozen albums later since Helado Negro’s 2009 debut album Awe Owe, Lange has cultivated an untraditional approach to songcraft that places his voice on an adventurous musical impulse without shying from familiar pop appreciation.

The hymn of Private Energy (Expanded) initially sounded in 2014 while Lange absorbed accounts of the unjust death of Michael Brown and felt a sharpened sense of vulnerability and anger as a minority. Lange’s creative drive veered toward toward catharsis - he sought to make music that would protect as a form of protest. The music of Private Energy (Expanded) was shaped to demarcate the artist’s pride of being, preserving and persevering, and celebrating, as Lange puts it, “my brownness, my latinidad.”

For the marginalized, the personal is always political. This truth is not exploited by Lange but used as a platform to examine fluidity in love and amongst various genders. Singing “porque soy una mujer, porque sigo siendo tu hombre”, (“because I’m a woman, because I’m still your man”), on “Tartamudo,” Lange subverts the expectations of the “latino man,” embracing instead a genderless expression of affection and sexuality. And yet the title “Tartamudo” means to stutter; Lange acknowledges the challenge of articulating one’s progressive ideals and the personal demands of stewarding the Helado Negro project.

“Transmission Listen” is another exemplary selection from Private Energy (Expanded), a song so effortlessly tuneful and seductive it sounds beamed in from the radio waves of an outer world. Or alternately, an inner world. Speckled and reverberant, it’s a love song as much as a purely joyful sonic experience. “Young, Latin, and Proud” and “It’s My Brown Skin” are prideful lyrically but complicated texturally, fusing restrained synthesizer voicings with sparse percussion and an interpolation of rhythmic tones. Here, as elsewhere, though, Lange’s distinct voice is the spine of the music’s ambulatory energy.

Though Helado Negro is essentially a solo project, the contributors to Private Energy were numerous, demonstrating Lange’s compassion for community and collaboration. In line, the lyrics to “It’s My Brown Skin” work as a central tenet of Private Energy (Expanded) and an intimate invitation to the varied cast involved and surrounding. Identity is celebrated as a possible personal shelter of sorts, yet complicated and humbly inclusive within abstract territories - i.e. the real and surreal worlds, inhabited by fellow humans and those that don’t identify as human alike.

“My brown me is the shade that’s just for me / I’m never not missing anything but me, “the song’s lyrics state, offering insight into the infinite possible variations for individuality and self-invention that animates the music and ethos of Private Energy (Expanded).

Helado Negro’s Private Energy will be re-introduced to the public via RVNG Intl. in expanded form on May 5, 2017, appearing on vinyl for the first time alongside new CD and digital editions. Supplemented with three brand new “versions,” this iteration of Private Energy (Expanded) will continue the strong narrative of Helado Negro’s spectral and transmissive 2016 opus

RIYL: Tim Maia, Caetano Veloso, Stereolab, Empress Of, Xenia Rubinos Private Energy (Expanded) is remastered, redesigned, and expanded with three brand new versions.

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