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Mario Batkovic
Introspectio Jon Buckland , December 16th, 2021 09:00

It's an album of accordian music, Jim, but not as we know it…

Mario Batkovic plays the accordion. Sounds straightforward enough. Except he plays the accordion in the manner of Steve Reich or Terry Riley if they were entranced by the carnivalesque dancing of a youthful Alejandro Jodorowsky, their nimble fingers reenacting the exuberant choreography upon compressed keys. And Batkovic’s fingers work overtime, like Lubomyr Melnyk transported to a squeezebox.

He approaches his instrument in the same way that Richard Dawson plays the guitar: it’s recognisable but the musician doesn’t appear to be following any of the rules or tropes that you would normally associate with that instrument. Instead, we’re treated to mantle-deep bellows, glistening twinkles, and squelchy, fuzz-caked riffage akin to the guitar work of Muse but with ideas beyond basic pageantry.

This is music for classicists. It’s the work of people who have spent time with the Greeks, with Romans, with Gods and philosophers. A bit of Nietszche might help. Maybe the epics of Homer, too. More accessibly, this can be understood through the lens of Terrence Malick and his esoteric notion of surrendering to a higher power. But it’s also present in the wild abandon of Emir Kusturica’s Underground, in Gaspar Noé’s Climax, and in Ken Russell’s The Devils.

And yet it’s simpler still than all of that. Introspectio flits back and forth between sacrosanct concepts and the Dionysian urge for imbibed escape. It’s a bridge between sacred works of ethereal beauty and the unbridled joy of humanity let loose.

This dichotomy is best encapsulated on ‘Quis Est Quis’. Reverential low-end thrums (courtesy of Colin Stetson) and devout vocals bookend the track whilst the central heft is made up of increasingly frenzied keys work played as if chasing ultimate release: eyes lolled back into the cranium with fingers mashing out a frantic jig, futilely trying to span a seemingly surmountable space between Man and God.

Because that’s where this album seems to exist: in that gap between the barely lifted digit of Adam and God’s extended index finger in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. On one hand you have latin-littered track titles and the choral input of Cantus Domus propelling opener, ‘Sanatio’, into ecclesiastical territory; and on the other, the tumbling cavalcade of arpeggios that twirl together on ‘Repertio’ like a bacchanalian wedding party fuelled by little more than bathtub-proof fruit brandy and spurred on by Clive Deamer’s rhapsodic drumming which, at its loosest, gives the impression of a drum kit caught in a storm.

Both responses to mortality are valid. You may take refuge in the arms of spirituality or in the warming fire of the bottle. By process of introspection, Mario Batkovic serves a healthy reminder that this duality is present within us all.