Arca Arca Xl Recordings
Before striding into the spotlight with his stunning stage persona, Alejandro Ghersi, aka Arca, shook the music scene in 2012 as a subversive producer, pregnant with potential. Often described as ‘unclassifiable’, his original, fluid sound morphed between contorted bass music, mutated hip-hop, skittering IDM and a rich, romantic sense of melancholia. As he defies expectations of genre and gender, there’s a radical freedom that runs through all of Arca’s work.
Arca’s vision has led to him collaborating with the world’s most exciting musicians – FKA twigs, Kanye West, Dean Blunt, Mica Levi and Björk. In his frequent pairings with close friend and visual artist Jesse Kanda, imagery and sound merge to portray in-between states and the uneasy explorations of an ugly beauty.
This all leads us to Arca’s eponymous album, the masterpiece that his previous solo work has hinted at in the past. Having been gently encouraged to sing by Björk, Arca debuts his untreated vocal, for the first time on record, as a holy vessel of bleeding catharsis. “Here’s my voice and all my guts,” he declared in the press release. “Feel free to judge it. It’s like a bullfight: you’re watching emotional violence for pleasure.”
Here, Arca sings in his native Spanish. It is his chosen tongue of emotional purge; the language he experienced his parents divorce in; the words he witnessed violence through. The songs here are inspired by the ‘Tonadas’ – the tradition of Venezuelan tonal songs that articulate the ineffable potency of suffering and longing. Arca finds Ghersi shedding his heavy and cluttered production to give his voice space as if he’s removing body armour, exposing raw nerve ends and an ocean of vulnerability.
The stunning opener Piel showcases a warbling falsetto that dramatically cascades from ethereal highs, dropping downwards into gravelly lows. The vestige of choirboy-esque innocence reverberating throughout his delivery in Anoche is juxtaposed in the hyper-sexual visual by Kanda, and sometimes the emotional gravity that anchors Arca’s vocal recalls the quivering sorrow that lives within the voice of Anohni. There are mind-blowing instrumental tracks such as the emotionally explosive Urchin and the onomatopoeic aural assault of Whip, which leads us on to Desafio – a gloriously visceral marriage of turmoil and defiance that left me sobbing. Stabbing synth lines – like violent tears – and arpeggiated breathy vocals soar across a metallic symphony, a tremendous redemption of sufferance. Transmuting the hopelessly bittersweet suffering and anguish of life into blindsiding art, Arca has crafted the best album of the year so far.