Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Electronic, Experimental Electronic
With its eerie silences, foreboding chords and hymnal chanting, Arca's third record really does manage to erect a sonic cathedral around your ears. This ceaselessly pioneering producer - who has brought his bleeding-edge sensibility to the work of Björk, Kanye, FKA twigs, Frank Ocean and Dean Blunt - takes ecclesiastical tropes and ingests them into his warped, dissonant and giddily contemporary world. Using his own voice for the first time - a move encouraged by Björk - Arca improvises melodies and lyrics in Spanish, backed by a filleted version of the startling industrial noise found in his earlier work.
Watching Alejandro Ghersi stumble-dance on metal stilts in the music video for “Reverie”, keening woefully and ultimately ending up covered in blood, one gets a glimpse of what Arca might look like if staged as a kind of twisted contemporary ballet. From the beginning, Ghersi’s music has largely ignored the steady, chugging rhythms that compose a typical dance track. Instead, he specializes in spasms of electronic sound that evade grasping, in beats like broken glass that tear apart the surface of a song before dissipating back into the shadows.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a former professor of medicine who's credited with helping to popularise the modern mindfulness movement, once described the practice as finding a way for people to be in relationship with their pain. It's unclear if Alejandro Ghersi, the artist known as Arca, is a student of mindfulness, but in a recent interview, conducted by the German artist Wolfgang Tillmans for i-D, he said: "A very long time ago I was able to see sadness for what it is and feel a privilege from it, instead of pretending it's not there. If there's a sadness running through your life, you must attempt to tune yourself in to a frequency where you harmonise with it because it's never going to leave you.
On his new self-titled album, Alejandro Ghersi, the sonic visionary behind Arca , fluidly transitions from the adventurous electronic dissonance of his previous work into a somber, refined sound that fuses elegance with emotion. Arca is also the first album to feature Ghersi's singing voice - delivered entirely in Spanish - which adds a haunting vulnerability to the record's fragile, unsettled core. The thirteen tracks on Arca play out like a modern day electronic opera, with all of the dramatic urgency, impassioned histrionics, and cinematic flourishes of its Baroque stage counterparts.
This album began long before Alejandro Ghersi became Arca. In the nascent stages of his career, Ghersi made dreamy synth pop songs as a teenager in Venezuela under the name Nuuro. These love sketches, sung in Spanish and English, showcased an upbeat singing voice and brightly colored electronic landscapes redolent of Postal Service or Passion Pit. What he did as Nuuro and what he now does as Arca couldn't seem any more different.
Self-titled albums often mean an artist is making a definitive statement, and Arca is a prime example: Alejandro Ghersi's third album as Arca is by far his most revealing, putting his voice, and the beauty of his music, at the forefront in a new and often stunning way. Considering how often electronic producers rely on others to provide vocals for their music, it's remarkable that Ghersi not only sings, but sings so well. On "Anoche," his voice is equally powerful and delicate, sweeping across its full range on what sounds like a traditional Venezuelan folk song given a radical electronic arrangement; the juxtaposition of his soaring vocals with crunching beats rivals Ghersi's collaborator Björk at her most affecting.
Last year, Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi followed up his stunning sophomore full-length Mutant with an ultra-dark mixtape called Entrañas. Tucked away after the maniacal and stalwart electronic mayhem was a piece named "Sin Rumbo," a morose, Lynchian song that featured Ghersi's solemn vocals -- sung in his native Spanish -- at the forefront. Little did his audience know that the producer was priming them for the bulk of the content of his third LP, which was set to be titled Reverie but has ultimately arrived eponymously. Singles "Piel" and "Anoche," which arrived in advance of the album, were further evidence that Ghersi has continued to stray from the beloved chaos of previous full-length outings.
On last year's blistering, bombastic mixtape Entrañas, Venezuelan producer Arca ended his mix on a surprising note with "Sin Rumbo", a mesmerizing ballad about wandering aimlessly. While Alejandro Ghersi has worked with vocalists before (Björk, FKA Twigs, Kelela), hearing his own voice was unexpected, especially on a track so pared down, with him singing in a deep baritone in an almost operatic manner. It turned out this was merely a prelude to Arca, his self-titled album that shifts styles away from a formless onslaught of experimental sounds towards more traditional forms, with Ghersi singing in Spanish throughout the majority of the record.
As an artist who was always famed for pushing the boundaries, Arca doesn't deviate from his experimental path on his self-titled album. By introducing his own vocals to the mix for the first time, Arca's avant-garde compositions and the accompanying videos push Alejandro Ghersi's work into other-worldly directions. Always on the cutting edge of electronic music, Arca's talents have been in demand for years with production credits on four Yeezus tracks as well as being co-writer of (arguably) FKA twigs' best work in EP2.
A working knowledge of Spanish will illuminate the Venezuelan-born, London-based digital auteur's self-titled third album. His previous work, influenced by hip-hop and club culture, occasionally featured Arca's treated voice. But Björk and Kanye contributor Alejandro Ghersi has now begun singing in his native language. On songs like Anoche or Reverie, the effect is Björk-like; on Desafio, it is borderline conventional - until you grapple with the lyrics.
If you want something that adequately reflects and condemns our appalling social/political/bodily mind-state — something to both rattle and soothe your nerves in the midst of all sorts of mutilation and nonsense — you could do a lot worse than the new Arca album. Take Alejandro Ghersi’s abstract electronic compositions as weird background music and they’re interesting enough, but don’t do much that he didn’t already do on Mutant, his last proper album. And to be fair, in many ways this really is just Mutant with more singing.
While Alejandro Ghersi already had amassed production credits ranging from FKA twigs and Kelela to Kanye by the time he turned 25, it was his work on Björk's emotionally laden Vulnicura that served as Arca's coming-out moment. During a rapturous and heart weary set by Ms. Guðmundsdóttir at Carnegie Hall back in 2015, said coming out was sartorial, Ghersi changing from a tough black leather jacket outfit to a plunging little black number over the course of the night, showing that even as an accompanist, Arca himself was an artist in constant flux, toggling between the masculine and feminine, refined beauty and spurts of noise.
On his first two records 'Xen' and 'Mutant', Arca - real name Alejandro Ghersi - built nebulous structures from a paean of underground electronica. Resisting static definition, Arca left the listener to extract their own meanings from his brand of mechanical elegies. His attraction to abstractness and wandering abandon, the reason Kanye West and FKA twigs would endorse him for their own respective records.