Mario Batkovic

Mario Batkovic

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On paper alone, Bosnian-born Swiss artist Mario Batkovic's self-titled record sounds like a curious project. It's essentially a solo accordion effort from a classically trained musician that has found its release through Geoff Barrow's (Portishead, Beak>) Invada label. The meeting of a very forward-facing modern artist's label with the traditional instrumentation of Batkovic's music might seem incongruous. But just as Barrow was so taken with the accordionist's music on hearing him live that it led to inviting him to support Beak> on tour, listening to this record usurps whatever preconceived notions you may have. Batkovic has dragged what may be perceived as an old-fashioned instrument gloriously into the 21st century. Opener and lead single "Quatere" hints at, but doesn't fully reveal, the extent of Batkovic's exploration of what his chosen instrument can do. Although it's a display of virtuoso playing, it sounds more familiarly like an accordion piece, albeit an extraordinary one. The further you delve into this self-titled record, the more Batkovic manipulates the instrument to make the most unexpected sounds. The urgently paced "Restrictus" builds to a brief section where his accordion appears to be producing an '80s computer game soundtrack -- quite a feat when working with this modest tool. Similarly, "Semper"'s church organ-like beginning is developed into a multitude of layers that often resembles modular synth sounds, and "Machina"'s bright, lively, and animated arc follows the rhythms of a dance track. Each composition covers a huge amount of ground, not least the heroic "Ineunte," which lies at the heart of the record. Over the nearly 13-minute running time, it negotiates maximalist frenzies and minimalist breaks on its epic journey. The steady, then eventually frantic build does all it can to get the blood pumping, and it succeeds admirably. His experiments echo artists like Colin Stetson and Lubomyr Melnyk, if only in the dedication to solo instrumentation, with staggering breadth. But much like those two artists avoid making their own music purely technical and cerebral experiments, Batkovic has infused this work with solid emotional weight. Technically, this record is a marvel, but it's also consistently stirring, as on "Desiderii Patriae," which hauntingly plays out like a ghostly lament, where transient notes drift in and out. On "Eloquens," his higher notes create a vibrato that feeds into the drama of the piece, and "Gravis" opens out into the record's most melodically evocative moment. To listen to Batkovic's record is to realize what Barrow must have done on first discovering his music: that his forward-facing approach to an unfashionable instrument is less incongruous than it is wonderful. He has made a highly accessible, yet uniquely singular work, whose reach is far greater in scope than the sum of its parts.

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