Mean Sea Level is the project of Chicago based Brett Barton. The house engineer for label Cardboard Sangria, Barton plays nearly all the instruments for the band in addition to arranging and mixing the music. He released his self-titled debut as Mean Sea Level in 2008. The EP is a collection laid-back folk drawing from influences ranging from Nick Drake to Latin music, and represents a collection of songs Barton had been honing for years. In addition to his engineering duties, Barton also plays bass for the band Hummingbird, Singleman Affair, and guitar for Part Five. He is working on the full-length follow up to his debut EP.
Mean Sea Level is the solo project of Brett Barton, an engineer for record label Cardboard Sangria. Mean sea level is the average height of the ocean, a number that has taken on increasing importance in recent years as global warming has caused it to rise much faster than normal rates. In spite of the intensifying urgency around mean sea level the measurement these days, Mean Sea Level the band could hardly sound more laid back. The self-titled seven song album unfolds with gentle acoustic guitars, late-afternoon vocals and a smattering of drums that push things along serenely. This is not music to play at a political rally. It is, however, wonderful music for more relaxed situations.
Barton manages to make breathy, downtempo folk that feels familiar without directly evoking the big names that style usually can't avoid, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, etc. The songs roll by less like the ebb and flow of the tide, and more like a lazy river on a warm day. “Nothing Less” leverages slowly strummed, subtly jazzy guitar and Barton's deep, cautious vocals. The song grows by the second half with stately piano and full on drums, but it's not long before it settles back down into beautifully hushed territory. “Keep Anything” adopts a quasi bossa nova lilt that suits Barton's soft vocals exceedingly well. He adds a hint of warm reverb that gives it a João Gilberto style made in a chilled out, half-empty club on a scorching afternoon sort of feel. The song keeps an even keel, adding some noodling lead guitar and Latin percussion and sets off on a more outwardly passionate thread for the last third of the song. The only regret is that Barton didn't include more Latin-leaning experimentation on the record.
Mean Sea Level isn't an album that knocks you over, but lets its laid-back beauty whisk you away to Barton's quiet afternoons and politely whimsical landscapes.