Arca commanded me to sit down and listen the other day. You should do the same if you’re up for something fascinating.
The Venezuelan-born Alejandro Ghersi, a.k.a. Arca, is mostly known for his songwriting and production work for today’s greats. Arca significantly contributed to Kanye West’s Yeezus, FKA Twigs’ EP2 and Björk’s ninth studio album Vulnicura. His solo albums Xen (2014) and Mutant (2015) were positively received in the snobby avant garde scene. So if the snobs are on the something why should be left behind.
Of course Arca’s music is not only for the few, but understanding him can be quite difficult for the many. Just like with Ensemble Dal Niente or The Necks: you have find a comfortable spot somewhere to create a bubble and take it all in from that point. If you don’t have that kind of patience Arca’s self-titled third full abum, or let alone all of his work, simply isn’t for you. Arca’s music is strange and tense. When compared to this previous work this third album is more vocal. Ghersi now sings in his native Spanish language so he can let his emotions rein free. Also the lament operatic vocals that come into play now and then are beset with bombastic walls of sound giving all an uneasy feeling of an artist that is aimlessly wandering around. This search is what it is all about. It’s punishing, yet beautiful.
On his debut on XL recordings Ghersi throws in 13 tracks that alternate between calm intimacy and strong expressions of mental suffering. Especially ‘Saunter’, ‘Urchin’, ‘Reverie’ and ‘Castration’ on the first half of the album are configured with some blunt Autechre-like IDM. In parts where Ghersi sings he pulls listeners into a distorted world where sparks of beauty are still to be found. On the single ‘Anoche’, the album’s second track, Ghersi shows himself from his most transparent side. Here he remodels Venezuelan folk into a downhearted ballad, tragically singing with lightly lingering instrumentals on the background.
On the second half of the album Ghersi tones down the bombastics and in contrast comes to rest with a few relatively quiet, distant ballads. ‘Sin Rumbo’ and ‘Coraje’ are simple of nature. On the latter Ghersi searches for the right notes. Sometimes he hits the low ones and sometimes the high ones, whispering in between until he eventually fades away. Another interesting track on the second half of the album is ‘Desafío’. Here he pays tribute to his own history as songwriter. ‘Desafío’ contains a warm kaleidoscope of sound with a catchy chorus in its core. Throughout Arca this probably is the only track that really keeps you at an arm’s length.
Arca often balances on the thin line of grotesqueness. At times the music cracks open only to ease down again seconds later. Although I expect Arca to be mostly appreciated by the high culture elites Ghersi’s music stands for a much broader part of society who are in search for some form of identity. Arca is about the struggle to fill up empty places within. There is always a meaning to be found but it doesn’t always makes sense.
Label: XL Recordings, 2017
- Piel (4:08)
- Anoche (3:37)
- Saunter (2:09)
- Urchin (4:00)
- Reverie (3:13)
- Castration (3:21)
- Sin Rumbo (3:36)
- Coraje (4:32)
- Whip (1:21)
- Desafío (3:53)
- Fugaces (3:07)
- Miel (2:56)
- Child (3:23)
Arca on Soundcloud
Arca on Twitter
Review by Wander Meulemans // 290617
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