There’s something very important about the fact that so many people have been talking about Arca and his music for the past few months. Of course, it has a lot to do with him working with some big names you should know about by now (Björk, Kanye, FKA twigs,) but it means something bigger. People are paying attention to some weird, exciting stuff, and that’s absolutely for the better.
So far, Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi has released a couple of Internet EPs (Baron Libre, Stretch 1, and Stretch 2) plus a couple of mixes featuring original music for DiS and The Fader. They were proof of his unique way of filtering influences and producing, putting out pieces that sounded fresh and were hard to connect to any particular reference. But it was his &&&&& mixtape which introduced us to a darker, abrasive, and unexpected sound, and it was a perfect introduction to what was to come next.
His debut album, Xen (Mute, 2014,) doesn’t necessarily feel like a culmination of what he developed on his previous releases. Of course, there are a lot of specific elements we can recognize from his past work, like the heavy bass, the disjointed beats, the off-grid approach, or the distorted timbres. But this somehow feels different, and it is probably because of the inclusion of those beatless piano/keyboard tracks which let us see a side of him that was barely shown before. This is, all in all, a beautiful record. Even when those harsh textures overpower songs like “Xen,” you can still feel it. Here, Arca also delivers some of his most conventional pieces to date, like “Slit Thru” and the lead single, “Thievery.” Vocals appear only once, on “Wound,” and they certainly aren’t like the chopped raps found, say, on Stretch 2, but soulful, auto-tuned haunting vocals.
It gets weirder towards the end, with tracks like “Bullet Chained,” which is like hardcore mixed with heavy movies special effects that sounds a little like the work of his buddy E+E; and “Tongue,” with its off-kilter metallic beat (that snare…) and no kick drum. One thing is for sure: Arca is all about making risky decisions. And that’s exactly what Xen is.