Disappointing not due to false advertising but because the sense of wonder we typically find in his music is in short supply.
A title like Sketches from a Distant Ocean seems to suggest Mark Barrott is keen to take us beyond the island paradises he commonly paints to the harsh and desolate vistas suggested by tracks like “Distant Storms at Sea.” Not so. Though voices are rare in the International Feel label boss’s work, his new four-track EP is populated with them, and the producer feels at home amid a small community.
“Galileo” instantly situates the EP as kin to the producer’s Sketches from an Island trilogy, whose second installment is the best of the neo-Balearic records on his label. There’s a gentle pit-pat of drum machine, answered by arcing electric guitar melodies, and we feel right at home. A jovial laugh interrupts about two-thirds of the way through, the kind you might hear from one of Ina Garten’s blotto Long Island neighbors on Barefoot Contessa, and though it’s initially jarring, it fits in with Barrott’s vision of an endless veranda party.
“Low Lying Fruit” is looser than what we usually hear from Barrott, and people (or maybe it’s just Barrott) actually take solos, first on what could be a Senegalese kora or similar harp-like instrument, then on flute. There’s a whiff of the Penguin Café Orchestra about it, and it’s certainly redolent of late-night living-room hoedowns, but the improvisations aren’t terribly interesting or exploratory, and it ultimately ends up feeling more like a Barrott beat with the flavor of a free-flowing jam.
“The Rowing Song” is easy to roll your eyes at at first. The opening guitar line sounds like the introduction to the endless I-IV jam every fifth-tier indie rock band seems to have in its back pocket. Then an ululating sample, not unlike the one on Holger Czukay’s vocal-sampling masterpiece “Persian Love,” enters. The picture is completed by a lounge-funk drum loop straight out of the early Enigma catalog, and once it enters, smelly basement gigs are far from our minds.
“Xarraco” is the most ambient track here, and in its drumless pulse it’s a little like Barrott’s answer to Boards of Canada’s “Zoetrope,” which ended their own four-track EP In a Beautiful Place. The same singer as on “The Rowing Song” hovers inches above the track’s surface, and it’s the closest to the title’s promise of distant oceans we get here.
But if Sketches from Distant Oceans is a little disappointing, it’s not because of false advertising but because the sense of wonder we typically find in his music is in short supply. Barrott seems to live a blessed life on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza, and he’s happy to share with us the feeling of falling asleep to the sound of roaring waves and waking up with a tropical sunrise. Here, he seems a little more at home at dinner parties and cocktail parties. His best music mixes awe and comfort. There’s less of the former than usual here, but the sense of the latter is as intoxicating as ever.