Review: Arca

Venezuelan-born producer Alejandro Ghersi has established himself as one of music’s more exciting voices in recent times. Having worked with the likes of FKA twigs, Kanye West and Björk it is with Arca (2017), that he offers not merely a conceptually realised album but also a record cementing his own posterity. Ghersi’s collaborative efforts on Björk’s most recent LP Vulnicura (2015) have clearly shifted his tone and influenced the work of the eponymously titled third album. A time he described as ‘a mind blowing, consciousness-expanding process to grow’. The pathos that was offered by Björk on Vulnicura is similarly—and welcomingly—matched by Ghersi on this outing.

For the first time Ghersi sings on his album. The emotional vulnerability is clear as he yearns on ‘Sin Rumbo’: Qué amargura/No saber… no poder/Sentirte/Poder besarte’ (What bitterness/Not knowing…not being able/To feel you/Be able to kiss). His pain is palpable despite any language barriers. The track was the listener’s first taste of the album as it closed out the previously released mixtape Entrañas (2016). Though naming an emotionally fraught album after one’s self has similarly been done, Ghersi (like with most of his artistic endeavours) is able to transcend such tropes. On album opener ‘Piel’ he sets a relatively sombre mood. The listener waits for the production to break, bend, snap and devour in typical Arca fashion, yet it becomes clear that this is not the artist of previous outfits. For Arca extends itself beyond a perfunctory release and attempts to fashion a new sound and voice for his career going forward.

Albeit not a total departure, the four-minute opener merely establishes Arca as the most vulnerable work the producer has made to date. Ghersi’s singular production, however, is still evident on tracks ‘Anoche’, ‘Saunter’, ‘Castration’ and ‘Whip’. With their clamouring thuds, vacuous droning, harsh stings and threatening reverberations Ghersi is clearly layering his career’s work. Quite literally as he samples his own track ‘Gratitud’ weaving a dense tapestry of his own sonic history on ‘Reverie’. Yet, the music of Arca is less cacophonous (and assuredly more focused) than any of his peers M.E.S.H., Amnesia Scanner and Lotic also producing experimental club music. On this record it is clear to see why Ghersi is the one breaking through the noise and cracking a mainstream audience. And on ‘Desafío’ he offers a legitimate proposition as one of Venezuela’s first experimental-pop stars singing ‘Hay un abmiso dentro de mí’ (There is an abyss within me). Yet, such a turn should not surprise listeners who have seen him sample the music of the Cocteau Twins, Shakira and even Lana del Rey before dissolving them into his signature sound. The tonal shift between Arca’s second and third album with less clattering sounds and a respite from a myriad of brash track names offers an insight into his pain and yearning which had previously only been alluded to. This time really centering himself as some combination of warped yet beautifully pained vessel.

Long-time friend and collaborator, Jesse Kanda returns to create the album’s artwork which appropriately features, for the first time no less, a rather ill-looking Ghersi. Cropped and close-up, he appears weak yet resilient and is reflective of the fraught tone of the record. The accompanying visuals for the album, also created by Kanda, have Ghersi prominently featured again contrasting the beautifully-distorted sexualised dancer, amorphous figures and crying babies of previous videos. There is an amorousness to this album that is only complimented by the visuals Ghersi and Kanda have collaborated on. Notably, Kanda has also released a relatively ignored yet similarly beautiful EP entitled Heart (2017) under the pseudonym doon kanda which showcases a symbiosis between the two.

Arca finds Ghersi at his most sonically refined and operates as a very artistically assured offering. Indeed different, Ghersi’s thirteen-track output showcases his sound in transition and refinement over revolution ultimately providing a record that instantly rewards anyone open to listening. Upon the album’s release Ghersi posted on Twitter simply writing ‘me siento abrumada, gracias’, a sentiment similarly echoed by listeners alike.

Arca is now available for streaming and purchase.

Timothy Davies

The author Timothy Davies

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