Album Review: Arca – Arca

By Sam Tornow, Editorial Director
[XL; 2017]
Rating: 8.5/10

Key Tracks: “Anoche,” “Reverie,” “Fugaces”

Venezuelan-born Alejandro Ghersi has rightfully self-titled his latest album, Arca. Known for convoluted, otherworldly tracks which are inconceivably born out of the experimentation of everyday sounds, Ghersi was never one to conceal emotions. The warped atmosphere of his 2015 masterpiece, Mutant, moves the listener to some other dimension that we can only assume belongs to the artist and is home to his deepest emotions. But on Arca, Ghersi outstretches himself even further, leaving himself vulnerable from every angle. As if the clouds have at once parted, Ghersi’s voice is finally explored, and the shock value of that alone is cathartic to the listener and to Arca himself.

Arca has proven himself as one of the most innovative producers in the world. In addition to the collaborations with Kanye and FKA Twigs, on his own, Arca has an unparalleled ability to rip the listener into the narrative space he has painstakingly created, which makes sense, as he treats his music as if it were a living entity. The combination of brutishly reshaped real-world sound into head-scratching creations, and Ghersi’s attention to delay, timbre, dynamics, and swells, breathe life into his work.

Here, Ghersi takes the same perfectionist approach. The production is more mature and refined than it’s ever been. All the cataclysmic cries of Mutant exist on a subdued level, ducked underneath the tension point. Chaos reigns from below, elevating the operatic vocals to emotionally exhausting heights, pushing it higher and higher until peaking on “Desafio”.

Nearly every line on Arca is sung in Ghersi’s native tongue, Spanish, a synthetic choice used to properly express the feelings of these emotions as they originally manifested. There’s an ancient nature to its sound as if Ghersi’s voice has been shelved away for centuries. And though the words may be indistinguishable to a majority of his audience, the intended emotion is still invoked in the listener. On “Reverie,” we hear literal cries and wheezes in between legato notes of longing. The typical industrial-backing track allows Arca ample room for release. The room starts to spin and suddenly you are Arca, a human cracking from an oversaturation of anxiety.

Second only to these emotions in terms of influence is longtime friend and mentor, Björk. Her clout can be heard in the vocal melodies and picking strings  – An understandable trade, since Ghersi has been stepping deeper and deeper into the legend’s light in recent years. On the Venezuelan folk-inspired, “Anoche,” Arca croons, “Last night I missed you even though I haven’t met you yet,” a direct call-and-response to the Icelandic singer’s 1995 track “I Miss You”.

“Desafio” is the pináculo of Arca. Roughly translated to “Challenge,” it’s an emotional tightrope with considerably fewer layers than normal. In place, Ghersi’s voice warbles back and forth with uncertainty, straying back to center only in the absolute emptiness. Following the dramatic ascent of the album, “Desafio” is the relieving counterweight masterfully balancing the album.

On Xen and Mutant, Ghersi moved inward, nearly collapsing on himself like a star. Arca is the exploding declaration previously self-muzzled, the fireworks at the end of a drawn-out show. Arca is Ghersi’s magnum opus.

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