Release Date: Nov 4, 2014
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Rap, Club/Dance, Underground Rap, Left-Field Hip-Hop
Xen, the debut from Arca, comes with more built-in pedigree than any album released this year. The 24-year-old producer from Venezuela has lent his production skills to two of the most future releases in recent memory, Kanye West's Yeezus and FKA Twigs' LP1. From note one, Xen challenges those looking for an extension of his production work, as Arca shows the innovation with which he approaches his own craft.Tracks like "Sisters" and "Wound" are able to roam freely as ideas and musical modes are swiftly presented and dropped with little digression.
“Eyes glazed over in gratitude,” reads Arca’s most recent tweet, which is already three days old when I sit down to “Sisters” for the 15th time today. In this new social age, most producers (and their publicists) are determined to trend. Meanwhile, Arca, born Alejandro Ghersi, continues his leisurely, sold-out tour schedule and allows the tortured charm of his debut album, Xen, to resonate across underground sound systems.
Much noise has been made about Alejandro Ghersi, the Venezuelan-born, Brooklyn-based producer. His early EPs earned him lofty praise, and knob-twiddling credits for FKA Twigs and Yeezus (including “Blood On The Leaves” and “Hold My Liquor”) elevated his position in many musical circles. Here was a producer that wouldn’t play by any rules. His anarchic, punk mentality to electronica obviously leant itself well to Kanye's magnum opus, but can it stand on its own two feet? Ghersi's debut LP Xen – on Mute, no less – proves it can.
The Venezuelan-born producer Alejandro Ghersi, aka Arca, has got a handful of releases to his name so far, including 2012's Stretch 1 and Stretch 2, a pair of bewildering EPs that threaded glassy digital synths with sped-up vocals and chopped'n'screwed stutterbeats, all as twisted and contorted as the weird, milky appendages pictured on their sleeves. Beyond that, though, Arca is best known as a next-generation super-producer, or a potential one, anyway. He's already produced some of FKA twigs' best work, he's co-producing Björk's next album, and he had a hand in four songs on Kanye's Yeezus.
Venezuelan-born producer Alejandro Ghersi, who works under the name Arca, has and will have a hand in working with some pretty big name clientele. Helped with Kanye West on Yeezus? Check. Co-producing Björk’s new record? Yep. Produced FKA twigs? You betcha. So into this fray he has unleashed his ….
Even if you haven’t heard of Arca, it’s likely you’ve already heard his idiosyncratic sound. Having provided vivid production for likes of Kanye West and FKA twigs, he’s already made a name for himself thanks to his twisted, lively instrumentals. Everyone in the know has been paying attention; hell, he’s even co-producing Björk’s ninth studio album.
Music’s mainstream has always fed off underground currents, but lately the exchange of ideas has been more flood than trickle, particularly in the sensuous body of water that encompasses hip-hop and R&B. Canadian chart rapper Drake co-opted the then emerging London beat auteur Jamie xx for the title track of his 2011 album Take Care. Since then, this swirling of waters built to a tidal surge with Kanye West’s Yeezus album (2013).
After listening to the debut album by Venezuelan-born/London-based musician Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi), we're not surprised that he's co-producing the next Björk record. Just as the Icelandic pop innovator used patterns in nature to break away from traditional song structure on 2011's Biophilia album, Arca forges his own intuitive path on Xen through rhythm and harmony, but with even less regard for pop convention. Moments of softness and even warmth make Ghersi's debut album a more varied, mature and easier listen than last year's unforgiving &&&&& mixtape.
Arca (aka Alejandro Ghersi) proves his mastery of flux once again on Xen, an album where every aspect of his music is in glorious limbo. Unfettered by vocalists -- Kanye West and FKA Twigs are some of his highest-profile collaborators -- the producer takes his tracks in wild but uniquely balanced directions. Borrowing equally from classical and hip-hop inspirations, his impressionistic sounds flow, stutter, bounce off of, and crash into each other in ways that unite and elevate each element, whether on "Now You Know"'s stark recombinations of strings, flute, and percussion or the dense, rumbling "Promise.
The tracks Alejandro Ghersi makes as Arca rarely cohere to normal ideas of structure or rhythm. His early Stretch releases for UNO made the human voice sound malleable and sickly. Then, of course, came Kanye West's Yeezus—where Ghersi could be heard in the evil, warped snarl of tracks like "I'm In It" and "Send It Up"—and his equally challenging work with FKA twigs.
Etymologically, the meaning of the word “organ” that’s now associated with the musical instrument might predate the scientific and anatomical uses, meaning that a once-ubiquitous tool for creating harmonious sounds may have something to do with what we now mean when we use words like “organic. ” This is but one Western-specific example of the phenomenon of specifically acoustic obsession with the inside world of the body and the outside world of unconquered nature. Humans are notoriously ocularcentric when it comes to our language, but we still rely on sound in framing one of the biggest and most ambiguous fields of meaning there is.
Alejandro Ghersi (a.k.a. Arca) is the young producer responsible for some of the artiest moments on Kanye's Yeezus – he's deeply uninterested in coloring inside the lines. But his debut LP is a reminder that he cut his teeth in the Venezuelan indie-pop scene, lending a certain delicate quality to his clamoring music. Xen plays with watery, surrealistic synths and skewed interpretations of reggaetón ("Slit Thru," "Thievery") and vogue beats ("Now You Know").
Assuming there's still something resembling a book twenty years from now, someone is b-b-b-bound to write one about the making of Yeezus, Kanye West's ultramodern hip-hop protest record. A perfect superstorm of secrecy, desire, and anti-marketing zeal with a charismatic enigma at its central eye, the album no doubt has stories upon stories worth telling. With any luck, we'll wrest at least some of this desired intel from the colluding cabal of producers who had a hand in its ten tracks.
A description of Alejandro Ghersi is more likely to lead with a list of luminaries for whom he has produced—he’s worked on Kanye West’s Yeezus, he gave FKA Twigs’ sublime “Water Me” its polish and he’ll be co-producing Bjork’s forthcoming record—than by pointing out that he got his start at 16-years-old as Nuuro, a left field indie artist who produced electro-pop beats in his native Venezuela (search some Latin American mp3 blogs, c. 2006). Ghersi, now producing from his London home as Arca, departed from his cheerful pop persona and released a series of EPs in 2012, and his distinguishing &&&&& mixtape the following year.
In a recent interview with The Fader, Arca expands on how he named his debut LP after a genderless alter ego, a fictional entity that he describes as “kind of repulsive and attractive at once, and so I imagine her under a spotlight, in this room full of people just staring, wide-eyed, openmouthed. ” The image of a person under a spotlight seems appropriate, given that Xen arrives under the weight of considerable expectation despite Arca’s relatively thin discography as a solo musician, with only a brace of EPs for UNO and the excellent &&&&& mixtape to his name alongside production work for high-profile artists. It also frames Xen as a kind of elusive, contradictory self-portrait perfectly suited to the album format, with Alejandro Ghersi given free range to explore his themes in full.