Arca’s video “Reverie” is a good marker for the overall effect of his self-titled work and a true must see of 2017. Stilted up like a gazelle, Alejandro Ghersi painstakingly inches back and forth on screen, before an animalistic phallic shape emerges out of his groin and takes control of his body, leaving his face in even more pain. From his rear, the viewer sees blood stains. It’s confrontational, unsettling, and carries the scars of the queer experience.
Sonically, this is embodied with the violent, minimal sound space that underpins Arca’s whispery vocals—a new addition to his songwriting. With lyrics in Spanish, I’m admittedly not listening for a lyrical or poetic experience. Those interested can find translations online, but Arca also conveys his message with his sound alone. His sense of space is breathtaking and the vocals offer another gateway to his psyche.
The album requires a front to back experience. With a couple stand-alone tracks coming towards the end, the listener needs to hear the way the work builds up into “Reverie” and “Fugaces” to fully get absorbed. Pressing play on the opener “Piel,” there’s just a presence there with vocals harping on a simple descending melodic pattern. Florescent flashes come next with high drones squealing to add to the atmosphere and white noise giving a cushion to the low end. “Anoche” beefs itself up a little bit at the chorus, but it still carries the same patience as instrumental cues come only with the lilt of the vocals.
“Reverie” becomes the first singular piece, as all the ideas thus far coalesce into one jolting mass. The tempo is still a bit abstracted, but as the catchy chorus seeps into your pores, smearing rhythmic activity gives the illusion of speed and spilling noise. Three tracks later, “Desafio” falls along the same wavelength with another sing-able chorus and a great deal of rhythmic activity making the track sing, but before then Arca takes a step back.
“Castration” sees the absence of vocals and a rumination on a single industrial loop, whereas “Sin Rumbo” shifts back to the vocals with some stunning high notes. Arca isn’t necessarily adding songs to the world for other folks to sing, but the experience of the ups and downs of the recording makes it emotionally moving. Perhaps by the standards of a more straightforward pop artist, his sonic design wouldn’t be so strong, but within the atmosphere of this project, they stick out.
Arca’s talent for pure sound also comes through in his use of sound effects and fascinating textures. The track “Whip” presents the most obvious example with his on-going artistic connection between sex and violence coming through in the BDSM sounding whip sample that opens the track. Elsewhere, sound-art type decisions are more used to highlight the space. “Saunter,” for instance, evokes sci-fi with alien surface noise.
The record’s “ballad”—if you will—is beautiful, but perhaps could’ve been blown out a bit more. Drones and keyboards float in and Arca’s voice is deeper than most spots on the record. The chorus is pure bliss with a cushion of backing vocals and a distant melodic device, but it just fades out a bit too quickly. This could’ve been a five-minute mammoth, making for a slightly more flourishing centerpiece. After that, the record wraps up with a vocal epilogue of sorts in “Miel” and an instrumental epilogue of sorts in “Child.”
Arca’s got such a unique sonic fingerprint. Everything he does is completely left-field, but relatable at the same time and the addition of his voice is flawless. Perhaps some architectural issues could sort themselves out on the next record, but his self-titled has again left a great impression on the electronic art-musical landscape.