Tuulikki Bartosik - Playscapes (Album Review)

While the accordion's origins can be traced back to 19th century Berlin, their use by cultures throughout the globe is a testament to their unique lure and dynamic capabilities. While it is played in pubs from Czechia to Scotland, it also has an intrinsic cultural status in Brazil and Colombia. Even North Koreans refer to it as "The People's Instrument". In classical music, the accordion has often been incorporated in esoteric ways, such as by Sofia Gubaidulina, who focused on the instrument's harsher, more jagged side. Yet, no one uses the accordion quite like Swedish-Estonian musician Tuulikki Bartosik, who draws on many shades of the versatile instrument for her high-minded and inventively playful compositions.

Bartosik is somewhat of a globetrotting artist, and her recent album, Playscapes, draws on experiences in Estonia, Sweden, Finland, England and Japan. Such geographic diversity is mirrored in the pieces of the album, which bounce from introspective and highly Saudade compositions, tugging at the heartstrings as they blow your mind, to more relaxed and modern forays into ambient electronic. "Robertsfors" opens the largely instrumental album with looped vocal rhythms and ethereally layered vocalizations, while "響き Hibiki" builds with minimal phrases which change intensity like waves in the ocean, bobbing up and down, around different keys. The earthy rhythms and measured vocals from collaborator Sander Mölder on the exotically textured, delicate sounds of "Reval: Pettäsaamislugu" brings a worldly bent to Bartosik's global ambitions. At over seven minutes long, "繋がりTsunagari" stands like a behemoth among the trimmer, more succinct pieces surrounding it. Its arpeggiated pulses and shifting forms are highly meditative, yet while it's a long-stew, it's Bartosik's more immediate work that has the wealthiest flavour; the innocent beauty of "Helsinki", the brief but complete magic of its counterpart "Helsinki:Aatos", and the persistent push of "Põhjarannik", an unrelenting, secure, gorgeous production that can recalibrate the perspective of the listener; drawing attention to the bittersweet beauty that lies like a layer of the atmosphere around the human experience. 

Elsewhere, the menacing counter-melodies of "Sundbyberg" dance wonderfully along an aching ostinato, "London" has as much tension and neurotic energy as the city it's named after, and "Norrland" slowly reveals itself with candid unpleasantness; harsh lines, cavernous foley, and mourning instruments. Never a purist, Bartosik electrifies her classically informed pieces with subtle electronics, field recordings, and more blown-out homages to chillwave, such as "Stockholm", which folds in a fashionable drum machine, field recordings, and restive notation to create a colourful if befuddled track. "Livland:Suusilm" closes the album with a wall of ambient reverb, long notes that seem to rest upon expansive planes of meditative states of consciousness. 

Playscapes is a delightful collection of transient works that bestow the joy of creativity to the listener through the virtue of Bartosik's imaginative edge. While its varied offerings might make the album a tad inconsistent, to listen is to journey; as any traveller knows, not all days are good days. Bartosik doesn't neglect this fact nor shield her listeners from the harsh truths of life. Instead, she presents them with a way of viewing the world that reimagines hardships as curiosities. Importantly, these sentiments balance her classical foundations with the uninhibited joy found in the traditional genres most likely to feature her primary instrument. A deeply rewarding listen.