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Mark Barrott – Sketches From An Island

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ifeel029i.jpgLabel: International FeelScore: 9/10

In short, this album is “music to listen to outside”, preferably on a nice day, and preferably somewhere like Ibiza.  The “Sketches From An Island” title is no accident.  This is the sound of International Feel label boss Mark Barrott working away in ambient solitude, in his villa out in the sticks near Santa Gertrudis in the rural north of Ibiza.Initially my favourite track was the opener, Baby Come Home.  There’s a nice funky element to it with a gurgling clav bassline – it’s danceable music with an ambient touch.  But after a few listens I got more and more into the next track, Dr Nimm’s Garden of Intrigue & Delight.  No beat to speak of, but it has a quirky intensity never the less, with an 80s synth driving it throughout… it’s like an Atari ST computer game crossed with lift music, which is a surprisingly effective combination.  Dr Nimm basically sums up the album in a nutshell, in that it contains all of the elements that made the chill out genre so good in the first place but then also made it into such a cliche; but in this case cliche is carefully averted by the less ambient, more consuming electronic influence.  And again, rather like the whole album, there is a clear concept behind the track.  Dr Nimm is a character based on an eminent Uruguayan Botanist, revered for his life’s work which has essentially involved being a curator of this massive forest with all manner of unusual wildlife in it.  Once you know the context you can actually really hear it in the song; that mad scientist larking about with nature, and basically not giving a fuck about much else in the world.  Barrott’s nailed it with Dr Nimm – the eccentric and the spiritual – that kind of wholesome feeling of well being and being at one with nature, but it’s an actively-managed state of mind – it’s deliberate rather than innocent – and that’s Barrott all over really.  There’s a lot of Dr Nimm in him, no doubt.The album progresses into an increasingly ambient place, with the electronics gradually dissipating.  The final track starts and ends with a load of birdsong, which is the kind of thing that normally pisses me off, but the journey is so well thought out that you kind of run with it – you’ve got to admire how tight the album is as a body of work.

Beyond the surroundings, the musical influences of the album are also clear, and Mark would no doubt admit that he’s in Jose Padilla territory – that he’s trying to do what people of a certain age would call true Balearic music, with a touch of Vangellis epic-ness and a touch of his own electronic past in the north of England in the 1980s – you couldn’t say this is a brand new sound.  But does that really matter?  Whatever the reference points, this is utterly relevant in the present day because it’s actually good.  There is no need to theorise further!

Words: Mike Boorman

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