Written by Lewis Dale
When Venezuelan born producer, Arca, burst on to the scene in early 2012 he brought with him a unique brand of avant-garde electronica that took the established norms in music by storm. Not a year later he’d production/writing credits on Kanye West’s most experimental release to date Yeezus, and later on a blossoming London talent FKA Twigs. He helped carved an identity into modern R&B that saw FKA Twigs become one of the most promising and exciting talents of the decade. Additonally, Bjӧrk, upon recognising the now 26 year old’s talents, asked him to contribute greatly to her 2015 release Vulnicura, which achieved widespread critical acclaim and further cemented his place at the top of the card of collaborators. All the while he worked what must have been tirelessly, dropping three albums in this space of time which documented the progression of his conceptual output, as he transitioned through an ever ethereal R&B to glitchtronica; pushing sonic boundaries and audiences understandings of how to categorize beauty and aesthetics in music. This was never more prevalent than in his 2015 release Mutant, in which the title track transitions between unmelodic feedback-riddled punches into an emotional synth crescendo.
In his self-titled third release, Arca, has taken the next logical step. Those who have been fortunate enough to witness him live will have been shocked to witness him take the microphone in hand sparingly throughout his set, when all previous releases have been entirely instrumental. The time spent touring with Bjӧrk has clearly had an effect on Arca, who has decided upon delving into the difficult world of incorporating vocals into his unregulated and free-to-roam accompaniment. Upon first glance the eerie whisperings and drawn out drones are reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraiser’s (of Cocteau Twins fame) semi-coherent and abstract vocalisations which focus more upon the sounds one can make rather than baring any discernible meanings. Further research and utilizing my worse-than-average Spanish, found that lyrically Arca is true to form. One would have expected absurd, grotesque accompaniments to befit his unique aesthetic. The track Saunter, for instance, is beholden of two lines which are repeated: “quítame la piel de ayer” he calls from the background, which admittedly incredibly roughly translates to “take my skin yesterday”.
It is tricky to decide if this is Arca’s most ambitious release to date. Mutant was a great deal more vibrant in its production, however this release has taken a softer approach to song-craft, and in utilizing his meditative vocals (especially in Coraje), and even sometimes utilizing strings (as in Reverie). However, it is often the case that just as the track is building into what one hopes to be the next plane, Arca decides to cut the power and move on into the next track. This especially happens in Urchin, which despite standing at a strong four and a half minutes long, could have been at least seven or eight. Given his obvious intent to experiment and push boundaries, it’s odd that he would choose to stick to the established norm in track length, never stretching himself further than the four minute mark. Three albums deep one knows what to expect with Arca, but it seems he still feels he must restrain himself into easily digestible chunks in accordance to popular modern music. But Arca’s vision will only ever remain upon the fringes of popular culture; at the forefront of subculture certainly, but it’s difficult to imagine him getting a great deal of radio time, which tends to lend a hand to less ethereal or ambition musings. Therefore the frustration lies in that he has not fully embraced this, instead creating a mock-radio-friendly set up, perhaps signalling an intent to move into more a more popular format.
In the five years since his inception, he has progressed further than most artists would in their entire career, but with only three releases in that time one fears he has played his lyrical hand too early. So where does Arca move from here? While a great deal of beauty is found in the juxtaposition between adjacent tracks – the subdued droning of Coraje being cut down by the sampled cracking of whips in the creatively titled Whip – he no longer serves to surprise in doing so. It is what is expected from him. The addition of vocals were the greatest shock of all, but to do so this early in his production career; if he wishes to maintain his grip at the top of the creative hill he seems to have backed himself into a corner. Part of the enjoyment of Arca is in the surprise where he is taking you next, whether it be erratic cluster of squeals or the pathway to a temporary nirvana. But it remains to be seen whether his determination to break down walls has left him unguarded in the future. One hopes not, but then one can but only speculate.
Check out his brilliant music video for his track Desafío below!
Credit: Arca 1000000