Little but the fleeting memories of pleasant moments.
Sometimes, all it takes to bolster creativity and facilitate a personal and professional reinvention is a change of location. Freed from the constraints of a life bordering on the mundane due to its routine, scheduled predictability, the mind is clear to wander, taking in new sights, sounds and experiences. Given the utterly foreign feel of tropical locales with their lush, verdant islands, it’s little surprise these geographic oases continue to provide inspiration hundreds of years after their initial discovery. Long known as a hotbed for various rave and post-rave dance music practitioners, Ibiza affords just such a form of escapism.
Since relocating to the island within the last decade, producer Mark Barrott has shed his EDM past in favor of a straight, modernist take on AOR. Picking up almost exactly where he left off with 2014’s Sketches from an Island, Barrott wends his way further down the AOR rabbit hole with Sketches from an Island 2. Moving beyond irony into the sincere reproduction of this previously derided genre, Barrott shows himself to not only still be rhythmically savvy enough to keep heads nodding, but also compositionally gifted in his lush, chilled out arrangements.
While ostensibly still working within the field of downtempo, Barrott’s Sketches from an Island 2 owes more to late-‘70s AOR than the mid-‘90s rave culture in which he rose to prominence under the Future Loop Foundation moniker. So of that era are these nine instrumental tracks that one can easily imagine someone like Kenny Loggins or Robbie Dupree smoothly crooning over the lush arrangements. And yet there’s still something decidedly modern inherent in Barrott’s Balearic chill out music. Traces of his electronic past burble to the surface on tracks like “Winter Sunset Sky,” while others, including opening track “Brunch with Suki,” rely on traditionally instrumented smooth funk grooves. It’s an odd juxtaposition that shouldn’t work as well as it ultimately does.
Granted your tolerance for this particular sound will be predicated on your love of or abhorrence for the so-called “yacht rock” tag bestowed on AOR. Sketches functions as literal yacht rock, originating from Ibiza and carrying with it the sound and feel of the vaguely tropical island. And because of this, much of the album flows gently by, giving the impression of a warm afternoon spent lounging on a white-sand beach or cruising the islands aboard a pure white sailboat.
That said, there is enough compositional sophistication and stylistic differentiation to hold the listener’s attention throughout. Whether through the clattering, mbira-like melody of “Over at Dieter’s Place,” conga-driven “Driving to Cap Negret” or the piano-based elegy that is “Forgotten Island,” Barrott offers enough variety and nuance to keep Sketches from drifting off into the ether.
Released on his own International Feel label, Sketches features just that: snatches of melody, rhythm and scene setting that works well in the moment but leaves little in the way of a truly long-lasting impression. Much like a warm summer afternoon, the pleasures it affords are best enjoyed in the moment, as both nightfall and the album’s end bring little but the fleeting memories of pleasant moments spent basking in the sun.