Release Date: Nov 20, 2015
Record label: Mute
There’s a scene in Fight Club (Yes, I’m starting off with an “edgy” Fincher reference) in which Tyler Durden directly address the camera, spouting off the anti-consumerist ramblings of an anarchist with Marxist values at heart. The frame warbles in and out of motion, emulating the sputter of 35mm film that has come loose from its sprockets. And at that moment, the watcher becomes all too aware of the analog medium and its exploiter; its prowess may lie in the artistic communication of the implicit, but the medium itself can be mutilated, toyed with, or distorted to provide a more direct means of disclosure.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Speaking of her time spent collaborating with Alejandro Ghersi (Arca) on her most recent album, Björk said "He knew my songs better than me... He was like a library of my music." That Arca has this kind of encyclopaedic musical capability will not surprise anyone who has heard his own music, wherein he slams together genres, palettes and instruments into something unique.
Patricia MacCormack, a researcher publishing in areas of transgressive media, posthumanism, feminism, horror, and body modification, speaks on “de-signified corporeally massacred bodies…[a] sealed, facialised, and genitalled body which is complicit with the massacre that capitalist and Oedipal systems perform on the body…” Specifically, she spoke on this in relation to Necrophilia, forming a dense argument for the multiplicity of body and its often painful molecular disorganization by signification and forced relationality. Questions of perversion and subjectlessness are discussed at length, as dehumanization becomes coordinated with the “massacre [that] signification perpetrates upon flesh and desire. ” Her thought formulates a necessarily extreme view on how the body unfurls in light of the emergencies it undergoes through identification.
If the ability to switch from producing Kanye West to producing FKA Twigs to producing Dean Blunt to producing Björk can teach us anything about Alejandro Ghersi, it’s that the Venezuelan is capable of siting himself in several different places and occupying several divergent points of view at once. His first EPs in 2012 stand as precocious evidence of such a talent, their shotgun marriages of wonky electronic and industrialized hip-hop revealing a preternatural ability to fuse knee-jerk beats and liquid flourishes into a melting pot of unlikely sentiments, feelings, beliefs and identities. This shape-shifting capacity was only heightened in his 2014 debut, Xen.
Though his music sometimes exhibits the romantic sweep of chamber music and can be marked with skittering beats, Venezuela-born producer Alejandro Ghersi’s work as Arca is defined above all by its fluidity and flexibility. You can hear conventional musicality inside of his tracks—melodies, chord changes—but rather than being fixed on paper, they are always in flux. Individual notes twitch and vibrate, refusing to stay with a single pitch; rapidly shifting clusters hint at proper chords without ever quite committing to them; tempos speed up and slow down according to whims rather than the grid of a timeline.
Arca's Alejandro Ghersi remained as prolific as he was before projects like his highly acclaimed debut album Xen and his production work on Björk's Vulnicura raised his profile. Just a few months after Xen's release, Ghersi issued Sheep, a mixtape of music he composed for a Hood by Air fashion show. As an artist with a distinctive look and sound, Arca's connection to the fashion world made sense, but Sheep wasn't standard runway fare: with tracks that sampled the bleating of sheep and choral music (as well as the work of Björk, Robert Wyatt, and Lana Del Ray), it teetered between stylish and subversive, disturbing and poignant.
Even before the release of his debut album ‘Xen’ last year, Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi) had already been recruited by FKA Twigs, Kanye West and Björk, becoming the main creative foil on the latter’s ‘Vulnicura’. How does a 25-year-old Venezualan producer with no real track record become rapidly embroiled with three of the world’s pre-eminent musical visionaries?On the one hand, it’s a story of how the internet has democratised music, of how any bedroom beatmaker with the right sound can suddenly find themselves summoned to the top table. But there’s clearly more to Arca than your average Ableton whizkid.
Over the past couple of years Alejandro Ghersi’s production talents have been harnessed by Kanye, Björk and FKA twigs, whose buckling R&B sound he helped to craft. On Mutant, however – the Caracas-born Londoner’s second solo record in just over a year – his sonic experiments roam free. Increasingly unaccountable to any kind of rhythmic framework (Arca’s early output centred around corrupted hip-hop beats), this is music that appears completely cacophonous if you let your concentration slip even for a second.
At the peak of every Arca live show, the Venezuelan producer born Alejandro Ghersi interrupts his otherwise mute meditations with a scream: “It’s too much for me to take.” That line comes from “Brokeup,” a standout from Stretch 2, one of the producer’s early collections of chattering instrumentals and otherwise mostly-unintelligible vocals. And though he’s since found himself contributing to recent masterworks by Kanye West and Björk, the ideological and aesthetic framework that spawned those strange efforts still drives his music today. That line, he told Rolling Stone, is about receiving anal sex.
With his debut album Xen, Arca toned down the aggressive, colorful impulses that had marked the straight-to-Soundcloud mixtape &&&&& and the pair of Stretch EPs. Those were the releases that had fixed eyes on him as a producer, even securing him a spot among Yeezus’ distinguished panel of collaborators. Xen was a beautiful, genderfucked piece of work, but it was decidedly an album — polite and classy despite the grotesque body horror imagery that accompanied its singles.
Silently flitting between the light and dark of the mainstream and underground electronic music worlds, Arca has left a hauntingly frenzied stamp on releases as big as Kanye West's Yeezus as well as his own solo productions. However, up until this point, Arca's work has been one of introspection and intimacy; an aesthetic common in music that swells from the bedroom outwards. 2014's debut full-length, Xen, explored this idea of intimacy on a cold electronic level, all the while providing us with some of the most innovative beat structures this side of the Warp roster.
Arca is impossible to ignore. He's had a hand in some of the best releases of the last few years — Kanye West's Yeezus, FKA twigs' LP1, Björk's Vulnicura and the outstanding new Hallucinogen EP from Kelela — not to mention the fact that he's managed to cultivate a wholly unique sound in the densely populated musical world. Unlike his collaborative projects, his solo work is a feverish dismantling of familiar genres like R&B, hip-hop and industrial, as he transforms them into distinct creations that only bear faint signifiers from the original context.In this sense, Mutant is a lot like Arca's previous releases.
As a foil to leftfield pop stars, Arca is a fascinating artist. Working within the constraints of song form, his unique music takes his collaborators to surprising new places. His solo career, meanwhile, is not a compromise with pop so much as a gradual rejection of it. We started with the woozy kinda-rap of Stretch 1 & 2, and ended up at last year's Xen, whose frosty melodies wandered through an inter-genre no-man's-land.
Roughly a year on from his last album, Xen, cutting-edge digital producer Alejandro Ghersi continues his stark exploration of shape-shifting digital realms. Where Xen explored his gender-fluid alter ego, Mutant is billed as more extroverted, explicitly referencing friends and colleagues. One of its finest passages - the epically chilling Snakes - is a nod to Ghersi’s former collaborator, Björk (both are snakes in the Chinese zodiac, he says ).
This month sees Björk releasing a strings only, stripped back version of her ‘Vulnicura’ album, one free of her own production, and that of Venezuelan producer Arca. Comparison points aren’t hard to find between the two forms of that record, and it’s clear on Arca’s second album ‘Mutant’ that he currently operates in a dark, twisted and gutsy headspace determined to slash reality into pieces. 2014’s ‘Xen’ debut was torn between destroying sanity and having an old fashioned dance.
Tempting though it is to read the distinctive 'otherness' of Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi's work as the product of his background – growing up in a destabilised Caracas, gay in a gay-intolerant culture, a classical piano student who was a fan of Aaliyah and Autechre – biography alone can't possibly explain his complex, teeming creations. That nothing else really can, either, is what makes them all the more compelling. It's easy to see why Kanye made a move on the then barely known Arca for his Yeezus album of 2013 and what drew Björk to him for Vulnicura; here was a young electronic producer with deep hip hop empathies and a seemingly inexhaustible talent for bravura invention.
During the time between albums, we generally expect an artist to evolve, to make a new effort that demonstrates some sort of creative growth or technical refinement. Expectations are especially high when an artist releases an acclaimed debut, as Venezuelan-born electronic producer Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi) did with his Xen album last year. In the case of Mutant, the music seems to be reflecting and dissecting that very expectation of evolution; its sounds viscerally evoke morphing, growth and instability.
?Arca has a masterful talent for interweaving synthesizers and a tremendous technical understanding of building tracks that are at once gorgeous and metallurgical. On Mutant, his virtuoso skill continues to shine, albeit in an even less structured environment than his debut, Xen. Never one to confine himself to any trappings of musical traditionalism, Arca’s production, even when working with established talents like Kanye West, Bjork or FKA Twigs, has always been a harsh, industrial cacophony of percussion and keys.
For the Venezuelan electronic-music producer Arca, a note is a living cell, and rhythm, pitch and tone are organic processes. He creates blooms and warps in his own arrangements of beats or melodies, and likewise he finds the bloom and warp in a sample of any outside sound, human-made or not. Then he’ll make it supersized and dissipated and unrecognizable.