What does it sound like?:
I spend an inordinate amount of time chasing the thrill of the new in music, something that excites me and makes my hair stand on end just like Help! did in 1965, Jeepster in 1971, Little Red Corvette in 1983, Teardrop in 1998, Archangel in 2007 and Sweet Darling Pain in 2013. I’ve found it again in Arca’s self-titled third album.
Arca is an electronica producer, real name Alejandro Ghersi originally from Venezuela, who has worked and earned writing co-credits with Kanye, Björk and FKA Twigs. Here, he sings for the first time. It is a stunning voice, fragile, strained, predominately in a high register. Listening to him is like staring into the soul of a man confessing his most intimate sins, stripped naked, in an empty church. It is discomforting and compelling. You can hear whispers in the vestry, wind whistling through the clerestory and deep groans from the crypt. He sings in his native Spanish so that he is better able to draw on the well of his emotions. In addition, he didn’t actually write the lyrics down, instead letting them flow freely in a semi-improvised manner. He sounds as though he has been to both heaven and hell and back. He seems both tortured and enraptured by his Catholic upbringing and his sexuality.
Normally, his music is dense, compact and rhythmic. In order to serve his voice, he strips the Electronica back, allowing its etherealism to float and fly around the vast expanse of the arcades and the galleries, right up to the vault. Even the instrumentals leave plenty of space for tendrils of dread to worm their way in. Whip and Castration capture the violence, the cruelty, in the mortification of the flesh in religious ritual, a reminder of sin, depravity and vileness in the eyes of God. There is one glorious ray of sunshine that brings some blessed relief. For Desafío, Arca steps into the wide open outdoors and creates a work of ecstatic release that deserves to attract radio plays.
Arca has always revelled in the juxtaposition of the ugly and the beautiful but never has he sounded like this. In fact, I struggle to think of anyone who sounds anything like it. In my constant search for something new, something different, something challenging and exciting, I think I’ve found it for 2017. It’s going to take a work of truly outstanding quality to top Arca. Next on my list to listen to is DAMN. I may be some time.
What does it all *mean*?
Human ingenuity is endlessly humbling. There is always excellent new music around if you care to look for it.
Goes well with…
Catholic guilt. An eye for beauty.
Might suit people who like…
A challenge. Arca isn’t an album to visit if you are looking for something to whistle.